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A Veterinarian Explains Why Too Much Down Time Can Be Bad For Your Dog

A Veterinarian Explains Why Too Much Down Time Can Be Bad For Your Dog

Working at the Bark & Co. pawffice, I am constantly surrounded by dogs of all shapes and sizes, which, first of all…

…and because of that, I have been exposed to wide variety of dog stimuli, dog responses and thereby, dog behavior. Again…

And considering the amount of dog toys, treat-trying, and frequent meet-pup parties we host here, some dogs can get caught up in all the excitement; a nom can all of a sudden become a neurosis, squeaking can turn psychotic, and a bone can incite a breakdown.

A photo posted by @lunablue_adventures on

Okay, those examples are extreme exaggerations* for the sake of alliteration, but what I’m trying to get at (if literary devices and “raise the roof” GIFs would stop interrupting) is that I thought I understood the gist of dog obsessions, but after talking to veterinarian, Dr. Christopher Gaylord of North Slope Veterinary, I realized there’s a lot more to obsessive behavior in dogs than just bones, balls, bacon (I swear to Dog, alliteration… can I live?).

Dr. Gaylord and patient/pal, Monty.
“Obsessive compulsive disorders in dogs,” he began, “refers to a pretty specific set of behaviors. These generally manifest as repetitive, exaggerated or sustained behaviors that take place outside of the appropriate context.” Dr. Gaylord said, “Sometimes there is an actual stimulus, but the response is inappropriate and disproportionate.”

My dog, Ziggy, is agitated by squirrels. Duh.

And because we live in the city, I am scared that Ziggy, who is very obedient, could snap one day and run across a busy intersection, all because of a preoccupation with a squirrel across the street. When I asked Dr. Gaylord about this he corrected my assumption that my dog is “obsessed” with squirrels.

“Squirrel chasing, or chasing of other small furry things can also seem like an obsession but this is actually a predatory instinct. There was a time when dogs caught and ate animals to survive and some part of that instinct survives in many dogs to some degree. These instinctual behaviors are extremely hard to break and it is most likely not worth trying. It is important for people in the city to understand to what extent their dogs exhibit these behaviors and to keep that in mind when letting them off leash. Dogs with a strong predatory drive should probably not spend much time off leash, especially in unenclosed, urban areas, where there is always traffic around.”

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He continued, “True obsessive compulsive disorders can be extremely challenging to deal with, and if suspected they should be identified early and treated. The best way to prevent obsessive behaviors is to keep dogs engaged and to start training early. It can be pretty tricky to figure out where to draw the line between a dog just really liking something and being obsessed. If a dog really likes a toy and plays with it for hours this is probably a good thing as they are keeping themselves occupied.

Related: The Ridiculously Entertaining Game That Is Surprisingly Bad For Your Dog
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The Ridiculously Entertaining Game That Is Surprisingly Bad For Your Dog

If they cannot relax when the toy is taken away, and are constantly searching for it, that could be signs of an obsessive compulsive behavior. Providing dogs with training, a variety of options, and appropriate stimulus is the best way to avoid problems. Many dogs, especially working breeds such as Border Collies, Boxers, and Bernese Mountain Dogs, have an instinctual drive to be occupied and perform tasks much of the day so they may struggle and be more likely to develop compulsive behaviors if left in an apartment all day.”

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Dr. Gaylord specified the difference between play and obsession, when he talked about the trend of teasing dogs with laser pointers. “Many dogs go crazy when they are shown a laser pointer, and at first it can seem like a fun game that keeps a dog’s attention, but this type of arousal can lead to obsessive behavior. I have read reports of dogs becoming obsessed with the laser pointer to the point where they repetitively search for it or start to react whenever the owner picks up a pen or pencil because it looks like the pointer. Also, dogs can generalize this behavior and start to become obsessed with any light that moves across the room. In general anything that seems like it is making a dog overly agitated should not be done consistently, even if it seems like play.”

If you suspect your dog has an issue with obsessive behavior, there are medications for dogs that can greatly improve their anxiety and obsessive compulsions. Of course, consult with a veterinarian before giving your dog any medication. And if you are in need of a pawesome vet, and live in the New York City area, check out North Slope Veterinary in Brooklyn. Even our pawfice pups like it there!

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* Bark & Co. is mindful and sensitive to every dog that steps paw through our pawfice. Also, each hooman who enters the pawfice is given a puppy-lovin pat down to be sure they understand that our dog’s physical, and mental well-being comes first. Bark & Co. also has vets, trainers, and other specialists/educators on call, in the case of an emergency. Trust us, we got this dog health and happiness thang on lock.

Featured image via and h/t to @bellestarrr /Instagram

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