You may remember my previous post about Stewie’s OCD issue. Well, last night we saw a behaviorist, and I’m cautiously optimistic. We still may need medication, but we’re going to try some behavior modification first. I was prepared for the behaviorist to tell me he needed more exercise (I’m definitely guilty of not walking him as much as I should, even though he gets plenty of wrestling exercise with Maggie — and Josie, when she was with us). He did note, though, that while walking may not tire him out as much as wrestling does, it’s “structured” exercise, which exercises his brain more. He also said that Stewie probably needs more mental stimulation in general, because dogs with obsessive-compulsive tendencies basically have overactive brains — that his day is too routine and he needs an outlet to stimulate his brain or he’ll find a way to try to do it on his own (i.e., tail chasing).
It all makes perfect sense, and as much as I claim to know about dogs, I’m ashamed to admit that I never thought of the mental stimulation part of it. The behaviorist suggested playing hide and seek at mealtimes as a way of stimulating his brain — make him stay and then go hide his bowl and make him work to find it. So I tried that this morning. I made it pretty easy for him to start out with, and he actually found Maggie’s bowl instead of his own, but they eat the same food/same amount, so that was no big deal.
Another thing he taught us is that when Stewie starts to chase his tail and we tell him to stop, we’re just giving him attention (albeit negative) and inadvertently rewarding the behavior. He suggested we simply walk up to him and grab his tail – not pull it – but simply get it out of his mouth or get him to stop spinning without making a big deal about it. We’re also supposed to just touch his tail a lot to make him realize it’s actually connected to him and is part of his body. Sounds strange, but some dogs don’t quite realize their body parts (legs, tail, etc.) are actually a part of them. Have you ever seen the video of the dog attacking his own leg? It’s kind of like that (though not quite that bad, thank God!).
The behaviorist also thinks that he may have injured his tail in the past, and that the memory of the injury somehow triggered an oral fixation on his tail, or that the injury itself still bothers him and he goes after his tail to essentially lick/chew/soothe it. Hubby did accidentally close it in the car door about a year ago (ouch!), but in his defense, the tail chasing started before that.
Bottom line, there are any number of reasons or combinations thereof that could be causing this. The great thing about this behaviorist is that he only charges for in-person appointments, and once you meet with him, you have unlimited access to him via phone calls and emails at no charge. He wants us to check in in a week, after keeping a journal of Stewie’s progress, and depending on his progress or lack thereof, possibly come up with plan B – which still could include medication if we’re not seeing any progress. I’m not opposed to medication if that’s what he really needs, but I’m also hesitant to medicate if he doesn’t actually need it. At any rate, here’s hoping!