There is a dog in my family who chases his tail madly in a circle. Once he grabs it, he continues to spin in circles. This happens whenever he hears thunder or the garbage disposal in the sink is used (it makes a loud noise). It is not the usual reaction that a dog might have to thunderstorms, or loud noises, it's really peculiar. I have read "How to comfort a dog who fears loud noises", but I'm more interested in preventing the spinning.

I need advice or practical knowledge (no opinions or guesses) to aid in preventing this specific behavior. I want to stop his spinning. Has anybody had any experience with this or similar situations?

  • This is your dogs reaction to the presence of external stress. Is there a reason you want to stop this behavior? What have you tried already? Have you tried throwing him something like a kong? I'd keep a frozen kong in the freezer whenever news of a storm is coming, then when he begins to twirl, give him the treat to redirect this behavior. That's not to say he should get a kong every time he hears stress. Make sure to monitor him. Sometimes use a down-and-treat method, giving him treats to stay down and relax. – jeremy Dec 24 '13 at 4:26

First thing is to teach him an alternate behaviour, so he has another option: the goal here is not to prevent any behaviour, but to help the dog deal with his anxiety.

This behaviour can be a simple "sit" or a "go to your place". Once you trained that, then you have to help him do that instead of spinning.

If you can "trigger" the behaviour with, say, a light noise, do it, then ask the dog to sit (if you choose the sit option) and positively reinforce that (ie. with treats, his toy, whatever he finds rewarding). Do it multiple time, possibly increasing the noise, but avoid scaring him (ie. progress in a lot of small steps).

The dog will learn that this is the appropriate reinforced behaviour. At the same time, as it is an anxiety issue, stay calm and do not try to confort it while (or before) he spins (which would be reinforcing the spinning).

Another way to deal with such behaviour (this one is not addressing the anxiety issue though) is to put it under stimulus control. A behaviour which is under stimulus control will eventually happen only when cued and won't happen when it is not cued. That is : teach your dog to spin when you say spin. (quickly: lure it into a spin when he's not anxious, treat, then add the cue (for my dog if have "spin" for a clockwise spin and "twist" for an anti-clockwise spin), then practice in difference situations).

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