Millie is the sweetest and gentlest nine-month-old Cocker Spaniel you could hope to meet.
Since the sunny weather began, her OCD reflection-chasing behaviour began. It’s like an addiction.
She’s fine at the start of the day but as the arousal builds she becomes more frantic as the addiction takes hold. She charges out of the glass door into the garden, becoming increasingly excited.
She chases the door’s reflection on the ground outside, her tail wagging like mad as she rushes about barking.
Like many people with an addiction, the actual behaviour is rewarding in its own way. The more she practises it, the more of a habit it becomes.
Now she can’t stop.
A couple of days ago the OCD addiction spread to walks.
Off-lead in the woods, she began to charge about with the same frantic barking behaviour.
I am relieved they have contacted me so quickly. The longer the OCD behaviour progresses, the more difficult her habit will be to break.
To ‘cure’ her addiction to chasing lights and shadows, she will in effect need to go cold turkey. Any weaning her off gradually will merely make the habit worse and the ‘drug’ of Millie’s addiction more desirable.
The aim is to remove all opportunity right away.
Plastic window frosting on the glass door should make it reflect less light onto the ground when opened.
They must for now prevent her from going in and out into the garden by herself. The will put her on lead.
After the calm of the night, her first few visits out are fine, so after checking she’s calm they can let her off lead.
As the day progresses she becomes increasingly wound up at the door, waiting to be let out. As soon as they open it, she bursts out barking to chase the reflection from the glass.
So they will pop her longish lead on and walk her straight past the ‘danger’ area of her addiction and to the other end of the garden.
Breaking the addiction
Now, with management in place, they need to work on breaking Millie’s habit.
As the addictions and behaviours will vary from dog to dog and different situations, I will only describe for you what we’re doing in general terms. (Please get in touch if you have a dog with abnormal repetitive behaviours of any kind and would like my help).
With the couple avoiding Millie’s addiction getting further hold on her, immediately they will work on redirecting her need to focus and chase.
They can use food or play; she will run away from the reflection to find it.
They will also teach her a special sequence we worked out that will kick in as soon as the addiction is triggered. Before it has a chance to get going she will run away from the area for an alternative behaviour.
A new habit
They will need to be quick and to keep sessions short. Key to success at breaking her addiction is to keep her arousal levels down.
If they are a hundred percent consistent they should be able to break the recently acquired habit.
A new habit will take many, many repetitions to build up. Meanwhile, rehearsal of her shadow-chasing addiction must be avoided in every way possible.
I guess, just like people, some dogs have more addictive personalities and something quite small and repetitive can start them off. Years ago I gave up smoking twenty Marlborough a day by just stopping, where a friend needed a lot of help.
Millie’s owners will need to watch out in the future. Repetitive addiction behaviour may well reignite as some kind of relief if things become too stressed, exciting or arousing.
About 6 weeks later: Thanks to your help Millie now calmly sits at the door before she goes out and doesn’t bolt out looking for the light reflection on the garage wall, she pretty much never looks for this anymore which is such a big step forward from where we are at! She will still occasionally bark at shadows but we have much more control of her to snap her out of it quickly using some of the methods you gave us!
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ and is always written with permission of the client. If you listen to ‘other people’ or find instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog it can do more harm than good. Click here for help