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Shadow Chasing and OCD Behavior

I began focusing on obsessive behaviors in animals in the 80s with my first mare. A neurotic QH that stall ran her weight off, no matter what we did. Allowed to run the whole property, she’d return to her stall and relentlessly fling herself back and forth.


She was broken, and looking back, I wonder if, at any point in the three brief years we had her, we could have done something different to help her.


Nine years ago, yet another broken, compulsive animal stepped into my life. She was a super thin, worried, overwhelmed, shadow chasing little border collie. I picked her up in a Costco parking lot. She acknowledged neither me nor the woman relinquishing her. She lept out of the car and obsessively scrambled over the asphalt, pursuing the shadows cast by the overhead leaves. Her movements were stiff and quick, her body low, her flanks heaving as she stress-panted, chasing, chasing, and never catching.


After 10 restless minutes, she checked out, shoving her head and shoulders under the low car.


In her 12 months of life she had been rehomed twice, sent to the vet by her first owner’s dog, and biting her second home’s child in the face.


She was tiny, barely over 20 pounds, because she shadow-chased instead of eating. Her water bowl caused her to obsess instead of drink.


On the ride home, her head snapped around relentlessly as the sun shot shards of light randomly around the inside of the car.


Unlike my first broken mare, I knew I had the tools to help this little dog, but it would take time.


I started with simple things: meeting a smart athletic puppy’s mental and physical needs; placing her food and water in a darkened crate; keeping her inside, away from stray lights; teaching her that she could be right.


Usually, I make dogs’ lives bigger, but for little Cody, I needed to make her life smaller and safer, while slowly introducing challenges she could tolerate.


In addition to the shadow chasing she had sever dog reactivity on leash, and wanted to chase skate boarders, cars, bikes, etc…


She was almost afraid of toys, unwilling to play with or even approach toys.


I’m writing this today because the little red dog I met 9 years ago looks nothing like the gregarious, bold, assertive, friendly, social little dog who just spent five days at camp with strange dogs and people. She is, to put it mildly, a flirt. She loves everyone with her whole heart (and her whole self!) she’ll climb in your lap and go home with you within seconds of meeting. Dogs, while offensive and oafish, she tolerates with mild disregard (I think she even found herself briefly talked into playing before she caught herself).


Cody is proof that any dog, no matter how broken can not only heal, but become something wholly alive and utterly alien from their former selves.


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