Obsessive compulsive behaviors in dogs; dog training at home with Justin Silver

Welcome to Week 9 of our 10 week training course, Tuesdays with Justin; Dog Training at Home, tackling common training issues for dog parents. Justin is addressing the big bin of hard to explain behaviors some of us see in our pups and ways to fix them. Sophie is a paw licker. It sometimes drives me crazy, so I was interested to hear what Justin recommended. Let’s get right to it!

Hard To Explain Dog Behaviors OR The OCDilemma

by Justin Silver with Dave Donnenfeld

Strange is not just for Kid Cudi and Patsy Cline. Excessive, odd and occasionally baffling behaviors can surface in dogs and often for no clear-cut reason. These behaviors run the gamut from comical to disturbing, and if left untreated, can be often progressive and harmful.

Obsessive compulsive behaviors in dogs; dog training at home with Justin Silver

Below are some of the most common, troubling behaviors. Should your particular issue be absent, pretend it is there by identifying with the family of behavior it resembles.

When I first got my dogs, I was convinced that any hiccup was unique to my dog. However, most everything falls into a category of behavior and standard treatments do apply.


  • Excessive barking
  • licking or chewing of self or objects
  • biting at the air
  • chasing one’s tail or spinning
  • whining
  • scratching of self or objects
  • staring or barking at objects, shadows, reflections
  • digging on hard surfaces
  • fixating
  • destruction of household items
  • marking
  • pacing

…and thousands of others.


Obsessive compulsive behaviors in dogs; dog training at home with Justin Silver

What to do:

  •  check in with your vet to rule out potential medical problems

What not to do:

  • punish or scold a dog for compulsive or obsessive behaviors. They are already stressed and stressful responses compound difficulties
  • coddle or baby the dog when it acts out
  • react to your dog’s behavior.


  • Inadequate exercise
  • boredom
  • lack of socialization.

Obsessive compulsive behaviors in dogs; dog training at home with Justin Silver

The Fix

  • Increase interactive exercise with owners – walks with commands, games and the redirection of anxious energy can be a panacea.
  • Observe, but don’t report. Many times an owner’s reaction is part of the sequence that perpetuates the behavior.
  • Break Routines – behaviors are often a script being followed. For excessive barking, ignore the dog and remain quiet.
  • Socialize, socialize, socialize – Trips to the dog park and setting up play dates with other dogs can thwart the onset of “cabin fever” type symptoms.
  • Keep your dog company and try to catch them as they enter into their compulsive script.

The dog may offer a window where redirection can occur. For example, a dog that licks compulsively will often stare at the target body part before commencement. It is possible to redirect the dog’s attention onto something like a loud squeaking toy and lure it into some fetch.

Obsessive compulsive behaviors in dogs; dog training at home with Justin Silver

Case Study 1: Molly

Obsessive compulsive behaviors in dogs; dog training at home with Justin Silver

Dave and I worked with a dog named Molly, who would bark uncontrollably at reflections being cast on the kitchen ceiling. Her bowl was made of stainless steel, and whenever there was light in the kitchen, it would reflect off the bowl onto the ceiling. Switching to a matte plastic bowl did not do the trick, because there were always reflections on the ceiling from incoming light.

We took Molly just outside the kitchen and had her sit/stay, before introducing her favorite ball. With Molly a bit beyond the kitchen, I held her bowl in my hands and used it to create a momentary reflection off the ceiling. Before she could react, the reflection was gone, but she still wanted to engage the compulsion. She was torn between the reflection and her desire to play ball with me. With each passing momentary reflection, she was less reactive and finally, she sat quietly. As a reward, I tossed the ball into the living room and she bounded after it. I continued to make the reflections last longer, and would only toss the ball when she was non-reactive. Finally, we entered into the kitchen and practiced some more. Within an hour, she was good. Molly continued to practice with her owner for about a week before the reaction was entirely gone.

Case Study 2: Tonka

This case was caused by the owner doing something that needed to be undone. The fix can apply to other fear-based behaviors to particular objects.

Miniature poodles have curly hair and not fur, and their coat doesn’t shed. A client of mine used a shedding brush intended to shear shedding fur from short-coated dogs. The brushings were painful, and this dog was now afraid of all brushing. We purchased the appropriate brush and got to work. To desensitize the traumatized poodle, I put her on leash, while holding a fistful of treats. I let the dog nibble from my hand, as I merely showed her the brush for a few seconds. I then touched her with the smooth backside of the brush, as she continued nibbling from my half-closed fistful of small treats. The dog was reactive to a degree, but each session lasted maybe two minutes, with a ten-minute break in between, until I was able to brush her with the smooth side. In the attempts that followed, I was slowly able to brush for a few strokes while removing the treats. I would say it was a little over an hour before the reactiveness was gone and we were able to liberally brush the dog’s hair. Any touch sensitivity that a dog may exhibit can be treated in this fashion, as long as one is patient. 

Case Study 3: Zoe

Obsessive compulsive behaviors in dogs; dog training at home with Justin Silver

I worked with a highly reactive Schnauzer named Zoe, that did most everything obsessively. The most bothersome habit was an unending shrill bark, that was triggered by the mere sight of people. It would continue for minutes and made walking her stressful for everyone. The first thing I noticed was how her owner slowed the pace when her dog would slow down. It was if she was bracing and waiting for a person to appear on the horizon. Every twitch or momentary pause by the dog caused the owner to stop walking and wait. Zoe’s routine was simple – slow down, scan the area, identify something, wait a few seconds and bark. Simply having her owner walk through the trigger solved half the problem. When she kept walking at a brisk pace, the dog didn’t have time to go into its normal routine. Once we made this initial improvement, we incorporated treats and commands into the walk. Zoe now had something else to pay attention to, as well as something it coveted – treats and attention. In very short order, the dog’s interest in other people and other dogs was still there, but subsumed by her interest in earning treats and interacting with her Mom. With a new set of priorities and a much less reactive owner, this case of obsessive barking was easily broken.

♥     ♥     ♥     ♥     ♥

The Giveaway

dog training at home with Justin Silver


Enter to win a copy of Justin & Dave’s new book, The Language of Dogs, a great dog training at home manual that’s easy to read and chock full of practical training tips that work. I reviewed it in an earlier post here.

To enter, just join the Bark & Swagger family! If you’re already a member, you’re eligible! The giveaway begins Tuesday, June 23 at 7am EST and ends Sunday, June 28 at 11:59pm EST. Each week, we’ll announce a new winner and start the giveaway again.

Week 8’s winner is Ruth E. Congratulations, Ruth!

To get more info, great tips and fun pictures, visit Justin on:




Does your dog have an OCD behavior? How have you dealt with it?


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Written by Jody Miller-Young
What does stylish mean to you? I’m passionate about animals, fashion, travel, home decor and rescue, and that's what you'll find here. After a recent move to Fort Lauderdale from NYC, we're loving our new life in the sunshine. Welcome to my world! Grab your favorite beverage, curl up and stay awhile.