Understanding addiction in dogs

By Sindhoor Pangal, Bangalore Mirror Bureau | Aug 24, 2015, 09.44 PM IST

This week I write to you from San Francisco. Priding itself on being the most pet friendly city, it has a lot of activities one can engage a dog in. I particularly like the talking walks in the parks and balmy weather is perfect for it. That’s exactly what I have been doing. I have been walking a particularly lovely bulldog whose human presented me with a rather unique problem. The dog does not like to walk or sniff on walks. So we set out to figure out the nature of the problem.

On our first walk we headed out towards the beach. The dog that does not like to walk made a bee-line for the beach. Upon hitting the beach the dog’s humans started playing with the dog. The dog played long and hard. But on the way back the dog was limping and as described, did not stop to sniff a thing.
As I sat down with the humans to understand the situation better, I learnt that the dog suffers from a ligament tear. This is common in dogs that play fetch or rough games. Heavy and large dogs are particularly susceptible to this injury. This injury is extremely painful. Dogs are quite stoic and don’t show pain. When they start limping, it’s a very strong sign that the pain has gone too far. We had cracked on part of the puzzle. It was due to this injury that she was not interested in walking or sniffing. It was just too painful. We made a plan for the family stop playing fetch immediately.

But why does the dog insist on playing the game of fetch despite it hurting her to the point of making her want to limp? The game of fetch, along with causing injury, also increases adrenaline in the body. Adrenaline temporarily masks the pain and gives a high to the dog, like a drug. The dog starts enjoying this sensation and gets addicted to it. Hence the dogs seeks out this feeling. I had to break this habit for her.

On the next walk, I decided to change routes. The dog did not like this at all. So we had a stand-off. She stopped on the street, not turning into the lane that led her away from the beach. I stood facing away from her. We stood like this for a long time.

Fifteen minutes to be precise. She finally decided to give in and change directions. What happened next was fascinating. She actually started sniffing and did not protest for the rest of the walk. She does have trouble dipping her head to the ground. But she sniffs the higher hedges.

Why did this happen? Once the walk routes changed, the dog was no more in a frenzy. Her mind cleared up. Slower walks are not pain inducing. Hence the dog does not see the need to seek out adrenalin. When the mind is not fixated on seeking out a fix, it now looks for other things to engage in. Hence her doggy instincts kicked in. She got curious about the scents around her. To put it another way, she was looking past her addiction and noticing her world.

We also have been methodically examining all other aspects of her lifestyle to identify what other actions cause pain and are addressing it, including simple things like elevating the feeding bowl. We still have stand-offs during walks, but they are getting shorter. This is still work in progress, but we now know what we need to do for her. Wish us luck.


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