Many dogs spin in circles when they are excited for things like the arrival of their owner, a tasty meal or a rousing game of fetch. It’s like they just can’t help it! Though circling can certainly be a daily occurrence, it doesn’t necessarily make it a normal one.
Is it impossible to distract your dog to stop the spinning? Does he circle until he drops? Does his drive to spin outweigh his desire to eat? These are the times we become concerned, as the behavior has morphed into a compulsion.
What is a compulsive behavior?
Compulsive behavior is an abnormal response to normal stimulation. It’s characterized by behaviors that are repetitive, consistent and serve no purpose. These behaviors last for minutes, occur multiple times a day and appear to be uncontrollable. They often start as displacement behaviors: your dog feels two conflicting feelings and doesn’t really know what to do, so he does neither and turns to spinning, circling or tail chasing.
How can I stop the spinning?
Compulsive behaviors can be very difficult to correct or manage, so stopping potentially compulsive behaviors before they progress will save a lot of time and heartache. Here are four tips to stop the spinning:
- Safely and consistently interrupt the behavior and provide distractions during times that spinning usually occurs.
- Structure each day rigidly so that your dog knows what to expect.
- Provide plenty of opportunities for your dog to exercise both body and mind.
- Give your dog plenty of attention when he is engaged in appropriate behaviors.
Never punish your dog for compulsive behaviors. These types of behaviors occur more frequently in high anxiety dogs, and punishment will only serve to increase anxiety. Instead, do your best to ignore the behavior (if your dog isn’t in danger) to avoid sending positive feedback to your pet.
If you have concerns that your pet may be developing compulsions, speak to your veterinarian as soon as possible. Deeply rooted habits are very hard to break. Complex compulsions may require a referral to an animal behavior specialist to get everyone back on track.