Current Research on Canine Compulsive Behavior

By Nicole Cottam, MS, ACAAB

Doberman Flank Sucking

Dobermans helped Tufts researchers understand the keys to Canine Compulsive Disorder.

The research team at the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic has long suspected that canine compulsive behavior has a genetic component.  Recently, this suspicion was confirmed with the discovery that a variant of a gene, which codes for cadherin-2, was overrepresented in a sample of Doberman Pinschers

who compulsively sucked their torsos and soft materials (e.g. blankets and bedding). [i] This is the first research to identify a genetic locus associated with a compulsive disorder in any species, including human beings.

The finding corroborates recent studies implicating cadhedrin genes in autistic spectrum disorders, which bear many similarities to obsessive-compulsive disorder. It also leads us to reconsider whether a canine version of autism exists, and holds promise for the development of therapies for compulsive disorders in humans and animals.

The next research step will be to investigate the genetic makeup of other breeds that display forms of compulsive behavior.  We are currently enrolling the following breeds into a follow-up study:

  • Bull Terriers and German Shepherds  who tail chase or spin
  • Border Collies who stare at lights, shadows and reflections
  • Doberman Pinschers with acral lick dermatitis
Acral Lick Dermatitis

Acral Lick Dermatitis on a Doberman Pinscher.

Both affected and unaffected dogs of these breeds are needed (except for Doberman Pinschers; only affected dogs are needed).  A visit to Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic is NOT required for participation. Participants will be required to fill out a survey regarding their dog’s behavior and visit their local veterinarian so that a blood sample can be drawn and shipped to the Tufts Animal Behavior Clinic (reimbursement for costs is available). Affected dogs will receive our written treatment protocol for their compulsive behavior.

If you know of a dog that might qualify for this study, please direct the owner to fill out the Qualification Form at, or to contact Nicole Cottam at 508-887-4802 or

[i] A canine chromosome 7 locus confers compulsive disorder susceptibility. N.H. Dodman, E.K. Karlsson, A. Moon-Fanelli, M. Galdzicka, M. Perloski, L. Shuster, K. Lindblad-Toh and E.I. Ginns. (2010). Molecular Psychiatry.  v 15. no 1.  p 8