The client in western Sonoma County had called saying he wanted a “bit of training” for his dog, a border collie mix who was in the midst of adolescence. With a visit to the home, the trainer/behaviorist found a seemingly healthy nine-month-old dog with some skin issues, which were being treated.
The training session went well, with the dog attentive, fun and engaging. But repeatedly, the dog would venture back to his food bowl and stare at it. He had an absolute fascination with the bottom of his food bowl. The food bowl was shiny and where there was not food, bits of light were reflecting off the bottom. The dog was trying to chase and catch the light. His behavior toward the bowl was repetitive and difficult to interrupt. The border-collie was showing one of the classic signs of an obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) or in canines it’s expressed as canine compulsive disorder or CCD. Light chasing is a common behavior associated with the disorder, as is surface licking, flank licking or blanket sucking.
CCD is more common in some breeds of dogs than others. Dobermans and Bull Terriers have been found to have a higher incidence of the disorder, although it can and does show up in others.
Now researchers have discovered a genetic link to CCD.
A canine chromosome 7 locus that confers a high risk of compulsive disorder susceptibility has been identified through a collaboration between the Behavior Service at the Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, the Program in Medical Genetics at the University of Massachusetts Medical School and the Broad Institute at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
For over a decade, behaviorists Drs. Nicholas Dodman and Moon-Fanelli, at Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine collected blood samples from carefully characterized Doberman patients exhibiting flank- and/or blanket-sucking compulsive behaviors, as well as healthy, unaffected Doberman. In 2001, Edward Ginns, PhD, MD, head of the Program in Medical Genetics at UMass Medical School, joined the effort, enabling genetic studies that culminated in the genome wide association study.
What finding the gene means is development of more specific medications to treat the disorder in dogs and possibly for humans who display OCD behaviors. Other researchers are excited about the research and the prospect it might bring them closer to finding a genetic link to autism disorders.
For now, the border collie has been given a food bowl with a dark surface and it’s picked up. The dog is exercised extensively and engaged mentally…all positive ways to interrupt the behavior.
You can read more about the study by going to Science Daily.