and light chasing
I have a Border Collie (6 years old) who is obsessed
with chasing light reflections.
Unfortunately this behaviour is often encouraged by
visitors and relatives (against my clear wishes) as
they find it amusing to see him running after reflections
made by a watch, torch (in the dark) or any shiny object.
I have trained him in obedience and he has qualified
in Novice at a recent KUSA show. However, he is constantly
looking for reflections if there is a shady patch in
the ring before we start any exercise. He is not really
toy driven, so it is very difficult to take his mind
off looking for "lights" with another distraction.
I use food as a reward in training, but even this sometimes
is not enough to get him focussed on me.
Someone said he has "compulsive obsessive behaviour"
(or something like that!). What can I do to discourage
is indeed a very frustrating behaviour problem due to
the fact that it is nearly impossible to control the
stimulus that sets the problem off (light and shadows).
What makes this worse is when people find it "amusing"
and then provide more opportunities for the dog to engage
in this behaviour. At a show this past weekend I was
very distressed to see a person "showing off"
their dog's light chasing abilities!
Some may question why this behaviour is really a problem.
The truth of the matter is that in some cases the behaviour
can become so pervasive that it interferes with normal
function. Some dogs have been known to stop drinking
or eating because of their obsession with chasing lights
etc. Apart from that it can interfere terribly with
the dog's and owner's lives and cause untold stress.
Some people have unknowingly caused this problem by
encouraging the habit in puppies or by training deaf
dogs with laser lights.
Little is known about OCD (obsessive compulsive disorders)
in humans, so of course even less is known about the
condition in dogs. In dogs the condition is commonly
referred to as CCD (canine compulsive disorder). There
are many CCD's, but the most common are tail-chasing,
spinning, light and shadow chasing, snapping at imaginary
flies and self-mutilation.
Previously, OCD in animals was considered an animal's
response to frustration of his basic behavioural needs
when placed in a sub-optimal environment. In other words
OCD's were put down to boredom. However a study conducted
by Dr. Nicholas Dodman and Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli in
1994, showed a definitive genetic link (the study was
conducted on Bull Terriers with tail spinning CCD).
Tail spinning was noted in related dogs despite different
environments, so it cannot be stated unequivocally that
CCD's are entirely due to inadequate environments.
Environment does however play a role. OCD's can and
do develop in zoo animals (which are very unlikely to
have genetic predispositions to OCD's). But this can
be entirely blamed on environment, which is clearly
far below optimal levels. However, a normal domestic
environment provides enough stimulation for most dogs
- you state that you work your dog in obedience as well,
so I would assume that his environmental needs are being
Border Collies are high-drive dogs and it could be believed
that this high need for activity in a suboptimal environment
could cause CCD's. But if this were the case then we
would see the majority of high drive dogs in pet homes
with this disorder, but we don't. So we have to look
at another cause, which would tie in with the genetic
Many specialists in this area, including Dr. Dodman,
believe that many CCD's are the result of small seizures
that occur in the brain. This has been verified by electroencephalogram
tests on dogs with these disorders. This would be why
anticonvulsant medications seem to help in some cases.
Some also believe that CCD's are associated with neuroanatomical
changes, which do not allow the animal to respond normally
to certain stimuli.
SSRI's (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can
also assist, but it is vital that any medication is
used in conjunction with a behaviour modification programme.
The medication merely assists in the facilitation of
the behaviour modification programme. In other words
it gives the caregiver a chance to get a "foot
in the door" so to speak.
The unwanted behaviour must be ignored and obviously
not presented to the dog. Distraction techniques can
work well and should not always involve the same technique
- otherwise we substitute one CCD for another. Distraction
techniques could also open the dog's mind to the possibility
of behaving in a different way. Some of the TTouch techniques
could be very useful in this respect.
need to have a behavioural veterinarian assess your
dog and recommend a course of treatment. This can be
a very stressful and tiring problem to work with, but
you need to understand that it is probably outside of
your dog's control at this stage so he will need a lot
of patience and understanding.
" Alice Moon-Fanelli, PhD - Canine Compulsive Behavior:
An Overview and Phenotypic Description of Tail Chasing
in Bull Terriers
" Obsessive-compulsive disorders and Sterotypies: