Thursday, June 13, 2013

OCD in Dobermans may help shed light on OCD in people

So, last year I did mouth swabs for Elka and sent them in. I haven't heard a blessed thing back from the study, and bu there was another study that's being reported on this week, on hoarding genetics. I know I was excited to read the linked article, because I was all "Oh hey, Dobermans!" Then, of course, it was about Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) which is a considerably less positive thing to associate with "my" breed. But there's discussion of how Doberman OCD can give insight into human OCD, and that's pretty rad.

While Elka is certainly not OCD, there are certain behaviors I see in her that could have (but did not) worsen. She can get pretty fixated on licking (as in, there will be a wet patch on the bed or couch), and some dogs lick until their fur is missing in patches, and then keep licking even after they're bloody. With Elka, we can say "enough" and she's done. Some Dobermans engage in what's referred to as "flank sucking", which is fairly self explanatory.

The article by Dr. Nicholas Dodman states:

After questioning almost a hundred owners of flank-sucking Dobermans and an equal number of Doberman owners whose dogs do not engage in the behavior, we found that flank suckers also have a strong penchant for gathering, mouthing and ingesting non-food substances.

I frequently say, with varying levels of humor in mind, that Elka is practically human. She isn't my "furbaby" (I think I've been over this), but her level of interaction with us and personality make her more than "just a dog" as well. Apparently Dobermans are rather like people even when it comes to their MRI's:

MRI brain scans of Dobermans conducted at McLean Hospital, in Belmont, Mass., under the direction of Marc Kaufman, head of translational imaging there, were revealing. They showed that in dogs prone to shopping and flank sucking, the gray matter in certain brain regions governing emotional, cognitive and sensory and motor functions was significantly less dense. We have also perceived significant differences in a region connecting the two sides of the brain.
As it happens, similar anomalies are found in people with obsessive-compulsive disorder, particularly those who engage in hoarding. This leads us to think that Dobermans make a good model of OCD in general and hoarding in particular.
National Geographic wrote about the study itself in more detail. The study I participated in with Elka was through the Van Andel Research Institute in Michigan; this one was at the Purdue University of Veterinary Medicine, in Indiana, by Dr. Niwaka Ogata. According to the Nat Geo article, 28 percent of U.S. Dobermans have symptoms of OCD (I mean, that's 28% of U.S. Dobermans surveyed. Statistics can be funny like that.)

One thing the National Geographic's interviewed behaviorist warns against (when preventing obsessive behaviors in dogs) is using laser pointers for the dog to chase. I've heard this before, and I can see the point. Chasing the little red dot is ultimately unrewarded; even when "caught" there is nothing tangible for the dog to have. With Elka, we have played with the laser pointer, but with clear boundaries. She knows "all done" means the game is done, that the red dot is not hiding anywhere to leap out and tease her. Again, she isn't actually obsessive, so perhaps precautions of that nature were unnecessary. But, better safe than sorry!


  1. That's interesting about the brain scans.
    I think it's good to have a clear signal that a game is over anyway, everyone knows where they are that way.

    1. Yes, clear signals are a good idea.

      Considering things like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy are what work really well for humans with OCD, I wonder if Behavioral Adjustment Therapy works for dogs with OCD?

  2. I'm glad to see scientific studies that indicate dogs may suffer from mental illness just like humans. So often people think every problem is a training issue or worse, that the dog is being "willful."

    Hopefully this research will lead to help for OCD dobies and suffering humans.

    1. Ugh, "Willful". That's one word I don't think needs to be used with regards to animals, ever. Some people, maybe....

  3. I hope they can find a way to help both people and dogs who suffer from this disorder.

    Now if they can just pinpoint how the gray matter changes/is different then perhaps they might find a cure!

    1. Yes, that is the next step, figuring out what these grey matter changes mean.

  4. Now, if they can just get to bottom of the Terrier Stare Down....
    Not sure what that would be in humans...

  5. Interesting. I know research/advances with canine cancer benefits human cancer research/advancements as well, so this makes sense.

    We had a dog that was crazy for reflections and bright lights. I wonder if it would be considered an OCD thing?

    Funny about the laser pointer. We had a beagle who LOVED to chase "the light" but she also understood the boundaries. She understood that when we put it on top of the fridge and said "all done" that was it. Oh, she loved that thing! And it was amazing exercise for her.