You might know a person suffering from obsessive-compulsive disorder, usually called OCD. He might constantly wash his hands, check to make sure doors are locked, or hoard. Canines also experience OCD, with Doberman pinschers among the breeds most often afflicted. Compulsive flank sucking is a tendency peculiar to Dobies.
OCD behaviors consist of constant repetition of some activity. It's more than just a bad habit, such as frequently jumping up on the sofa. The dog's brain chemistry makes him feel compelled to do this, so curing it isn't easy. Rather than aiming for a cure, Dobie owners might considering managing OCD behavior. People with an OCD hand-washing compulsion may aim to keep to 10 repetitions a day. By the same token, if your Dobie flank-sucks, you may choose to allow it for half an hour daily—but not all day, every day. A veterinary behaviorist can help treat your dog; drugs may be required.
While other breeds exhibit OCD behaviors, flank sucking is almost exclusively a Doberman trait, according to the Doberman Pinscher Club of America. Tufts Journal adds that as many as 70 percent of Dobie pups might go on to demonstrate this behavior, which is genetic in origin. Affected dogs continuously suck on or hold the hair or skin on the flanks, above the thigh. It can get to the point where the area constantly remains an open sore. Just physically restraining your dog, such as by placing an Elizabethan collar on him, isn't going to do the trick, unless you plan to keep it on him 24-7 for the rest of his life. With the help of an animal behaviorist you might be able to transfer the sucking behavior to a toy or blanket. While this is not the ideal solution, it minimizes self-harm and gives your dog the stress relief he craves from his stereotyped behavior.
Acral Lick Dermatitis
Another common Dobie OCD behavior involves acral lick dermatitis, meaning the dog compulsively licks some part of his body, often the feet, until lesions or skin growths develop along with infections, itching and pain. This OCD behavior requires medical attention as well as behavioral therapy. It's generally triggered by some sort of stress, such as a change in routine. It can also start with an injury to the affected area, which the dog licks for pain relief. Long after the injury has healed, the licking continues.
While flank sucking and lick granulomas are the most common OCD behaviors in Dobies, your dog might exhibit other canine OCD symptoms. These include tail-chasing, fly-snapping, compulsive licking of objects other than the body, eating inappropriate items and compulsive drinking.
While your vet can administer antidepressants to help your dog's stress level, you must examine every aspect of your Dobie's life to see what prompts the anxiety triggering the behavior. Is he getting enough exercise? A tired dog has less energy to lick and mutilate himself. Dobies are a high-energy breed who get bored easily. He also needs mental exercise, so play with him frequently or take him to obedience or agility classes. Make sure he's part of the family, not shut off from people. And while punishment isn't a good motivator for any dog, it's especially important to use only positive reinforcement to train a dog with OCD. Harsh treatment will only stress him out more and make his behavior worse.
Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.