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Peculiar behaviour

Published: Friday, April 12, 2013

Yogi has been behaving a little bit peculiarly recently. We first noticed it after I had been away on holiday and left him at a friend’s house (where he has been before, with a dog he knows well and gets on with). He started to snap in the air in front of him as if trying to bite or catch imaginary flies.

This behaviour then progressed to an obsession with his right paw. He would lick it frequently but also started moving it quickly from side to side, following it with his head.

This behaviour was hard to break, you could call his name and yet he continued the behaviour. It seemed to only start in the evenings when he was resting and increasing his physical activity (we tried REALLY long walks off lead) did not make any difference at all.

I did what I always tell people not to do…and looked on the internet. I ended up scaring myself silly because some websites suggest that fly-snapping is a type of focal seizure.

I came to my senses and contacted animal behaviourist James Coxon of K9 Kindergarten* who advised that this behaviour indicated some sort of attention seeking behaviour and that I should try to see if he did this behaviour when I was not in the room (set up a video camera). He also suggested not giving any attention to him when he does this and to increase his mental stimulation by giving him things like activity feeders (which in turn should also decrease his dependence on me as he can do these things by himself).

I got a feeding ball and started putting all Yogi’s meals in this. He has to roll the ball around the floor to get each biscuit out. We increased his training time – just little things in the house where he had to learn a task to get a tit-bit and within a few days the behaviour pretty much subsided.

We then went away for Christmas this time taking Yogi with us. He coped remarkably well (or so we thought) with toddlers, lots of people, new walks and the whole Christmas commotion. However, when we returned home Yogi went bonkers. He looked distressed and it was really upsetting to see. The fly-snapping and paw chasing had declined but he was chewing his flanks so much so that the fur on both sides went thin and you could see pink skin and he kept biting his tail, jumping up to do it as if he had fleas. This would go on for hours in the evening. I thought perhaps he had been given too many treats over Christmas and needed his anal glands emptied to remove waste and toxins but I got this done (and used a flea treatment) and his behaviour was even worse for a few days afterwards.

I thought back to what James had suggested and set up a video camera to see what Yogi did when I was not around. The behaviour was still present but nowhere near as bad. I also found an article online (yes I know!) which suggested Yogi’s behaviour was a compulsion. Other dogs show similar issues with pacing, toy fixation, shadow chasing and there can be a number of causes including anxiety. Yogi wasn’t properly socialised (I had him from a rescue centre when he was 8 months old) and new situations do appear to stress him out.

We went back to basics. I started doing more agility training with him, bought him more activity toys and started doing more things that involve making him think (hiding food and toys etc). His food bowl has been put in a cupboard and his meals are all out of a feeding ball or Kong wobbler. He still does fly-snapping occasionally but I’m pleased to say that things are 99% better than they were and improved within a matter of days.

My experience of this has shown me that mental stimulation is as important as physical exercise.


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