Odd dog behavior may mean something more

By Jordan Taylor | gargoyle@flagler.edu

Does your dog repeat actions, develop special routines, not make eye contact and fixate on an activity with abnormal focus? Are they resistant to change, sensitive to sound or light and have social issues? 

Most people know about the autism spectrum for humans, but there are few who know that this disorder is also present in canines.  

This disorder is difficult to identify in dogs and can be difficult to work with as a dog owner. Dog owners often expect their dogs to be loving and energetic, but dogs with autism can be socially impaired.  

Autistic dogs have habitual behaviors like walking through specific doorways in a house to get to their food bowls or always performing a certain routine before fetching.  

These abnormal repetitive behaviors are usually accompanied by social anxiety. For example, some dogs may hide in a safe place in their home if people they are unfamiliar with are at their house or if they do not like what’s going on.  

Dogs with autism are also very likely to have obsessive tendencies, such as sticking to the same daily routine and getting upset or stuck when this routine gets broken or interrupted. If a dog has these tendencies, the best thing to do is keep them comfortable in their own settings and environment.  

“Canine autism, from what I have seen, is very close on the spectrum to humans. The behaviors function very similar,” said Natalie Montez, a veterinary technician at St. Augustine Animal Clinic.  

Autism in dogs is seen as a lack of socialization skills and while the cause is truly unknown, it is believed to be derived from a lack of mirror neurons in the dog’s brain.  

Some cases of canine autism have been traced to dogs who chase their tails, showing that this could be a form of repetitive behavior often seen in autism disorders, according to a study done in 2015 by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists. This study also concluded that autism in dogs could be linked to a genetic condition called Fragile X Syndrome. 

Though vets are usually hesitant to diagnose a dog with autism, the behavioral aspects of the disorder have been seen.  

“No one really knows where it comes from or what it exactly looks like, but it does occur,” said Dr. Eric Searcy, a veterinarian at Antigua Veterinary Practice.  

Because this disorder is not commonly diagnosed, very few dog owners are familiar with it being a present issue in canines.  

“I have heard of [canine autism], but I had to look up the symptoms. I think it is sad, although I don’t believe it is common. It’s probably harder to deal with as a dog,” said Flagler College student Tracy Caccavale.  

Common veterinary practices do not look into the diagnosis and topic of canine autism that much as it is usually studied by behavioral veterinarians, Searcy said. This kind of behavior is something that a veterinarian would not be too concerned with for the dog’s bodily health.  

“From everything I understand about it, autism in canines isn’t really explored very much. There isn’t even a standard way to test for autism in the veterinarian industry,” said Dr. Doug Qualls, a part time veterinarian at St. Augustine Animal Clinic.  

Most of the symptoms of canine autism can often be seen as abnormal behavior in a dog and because they are animals, people believe it could be because of their animalistic nature.  

Usually, dogs are seen to be very energetic animals that want to love on anyone they see, but dogs with autism are very shy and skittish in their actions.  

“I have never seen any of these issues in my dog. If anything, my dog is the opposite of autistic. She has too much energy,” Caccavale said.  

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