Vet Diagnoses Dogs With Compulsive Disorder

That's a little tough for city dwellers who have to keep their dogs penned up, but Luescher says something as simple as a walk can go a long ways toward relieving canine stress.

"It really, really helps to walk the dog because that reduces its arousal and anxiety level," he says. "They get to sniff and see and hear so many new things on a walk and that's a motivation that all dogs have. They really have a need to check out new things. And if you deny them that by keeping them in the house and the backyard where things are fairly consistent, their anxiety level increases. They are like children with cabin fever."

Punishing the dog for exhibiting signs of canine stress disorder is always a no-no, he says.

"You could probably make every dog have compulsive disorder if you provide enough threats or conflicts," he says.

Likewise, don't try to kill the symptoms with too much kindness. Petting the dog to distract it away from chasing its tail, or giving it a treat to stop if from barking, will send the wrong message. The animal will most likely think it's being rewarded for the unwanted behavior.

Back to Basics

Luescher counsels pet owners to go back to the beginning and retrain their pooch almost from scratch, so to speak.

"Do not have any casual interaction [with the pet] for maybe four weeks," he suggests. "There's no talking to the dog, or petting it, or anything like that. All interactions with the dog should begin the same way. First, give it a command [like sit] and then get the dog to do the behavior. Then reward the dog for that behavior."

Pretty soon, the dog should relearn that first lesson. Do what the boss wants, and get a reward.

"The dog gains lots of control because obviously the dog can bring about the reward," Luescher says.

It works, he adds, because "from the dog's perspective the dog is training the owner as much as the other way around."

Eventually, everything can return to normal with a predictable environment for the dog, less stress for both the owner and the pet, and friendlier neighbors who won't have to listen to the mutt bark hour after hour.

Lee Dye’s column appears weekly on ABCNEWS.com. A former science writer for the Los Angeles Times, he now lives in Juneau, Alaska.

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