With some dogs, meals aren't the only source of oral intake they have. Wool and other fibers, non-digestible plant material, rubber, plastic, wood, and even their own hair are just some of the things a dog may choose to ingest. This problem - the drive to consume material that is not generally considered food - is called "pica" and is what animal behaviorists call a compulsive disorder.
In a human, a compulsive disorder may be repetitive, such as frequent hand washing or pulling one's hair out. In dogs, these disorders can include excessive licking and spinning in circles. Compulsive disorders are repetitive, nonfunctional, nonbeneficial behaviors. Although the exact cause of compulsive disorders is unknown, animal behaviorists feel that they are often caused by stress brought on by environmental conflicts such as competition with other pets, changes in the home, constant punishment, or confinement to small areas such as cages or crates.
Lack of socialization or too much attention, as well as a nutritional imbalance, may bring about a compulsive behavior as well. A dog with a compulsive disorder loses control over his ability to initiate and stop these negative, repetitive actions. Often the compulsive behaviors are oral in nature, causing the dog to eat things he shouldn't.
Controlling Your Dog's Disorder
1. The first step in treating a compulsive disorder is to identify the cause and eliminate it. For example, if your dog is crated for a large portion of the day, allow him outside the confined space to help get him on the road to recovery.
2. Don't reinforce the behavior by paying attention to him while he is engaged in it. Providing good quality time on a set schedule is preferable and more effective than petting, stroking, or verbally consoling your dog in the midst of repetitive activity.
3. Do not reinforce the behavior by punishing your dog for the compulsive behavior or for other inappropriate activities. It may make the problem worse.
4. Spray household objects your dog likes to chew with cayenne pepper, essential oils in citrus, cinnamon, or eucalyptus scents, spray deodorant, or perfume that is not your own.
5. Spray favorite chewables with a pet repellent to deter your dog from sticking non-food objects in his mouth.
6. Keep dangerous objects such as yarn or string out of your dog's reach to prevent him from chewing and swallowing them.
7. If your dog is chewing his hair, he may have an allergy. Discuss the problem with your veterinarian before embarking on a behavior modification program.
8. As a last resort to solve a compulsive eating disorder, discuss drug therapy with your veterinarian. Drugs that increase serotonin levels, like Prozac and some antidepressants are used for treating compulsive disorders, including compulsive eating.
Compulsive disorders are not just a problem for adults; dogs can suffer from them as well. If your dog suffers from "pica," or the drive to consume nonfood material, then following the steps outlined above will help you and your dog deal with this problem. If you are unsure whether your dog suffers from "pica," or simply need help in dealing with this compulsive disorder, then you should consult with your veterinarian.
Dan Irwin has been 'in love' with the Golden Retriever breed for nearly twenty years now. For a limited time, receive a free copy of "101 Ways to Spoil Your Dog for Under $10" when you sign up for his free golden retriever newsletter. www.AllGoldenRetrievers.com