Why do dogs chase shadows


A lot of seemingly charming and cute dog behavior can have a not-so-pleasant cause. For example, shadow hunting is perfectly normal - unless it becomes so compulsive that your puppy does it all the time, no matter what you do to lure him away from the activity. If you find this to be the case, don't dismiss it as a harmless little quirk. Shadow hunting in dogs can indicate something more serious: compulsive behavior.

Compulsive behavior

If you notice your dog behaving repetitively or obsessively, pay closer attention. Your dog may show signs of obsessive-compulsive disorder. When a dog engages in behavior with no apparent or easily understood motive or outcome, it may be an urge that is beyond its control - essentially a compulsion. Compulsive behavior can vary in severity. In particularly vigorous cases, it can be difficult to pull a dog out of behavior while running.

Shadow hunting

Shadow hunting is a classic example of compulsive behavior in dogs. If your dog chases its own shadow figure incessantly all night to the point where it disrupts their life and maybe even your own life, then coercion may be to blame. According to the ASPCA, compulsive behaviors like shadow hunting can be so harmful that they can prevent even dogs from falling asleep. Forcing can lead to extreme fatigue in dogs.


Compulsive behavior like shadow hunting usually arises from stress and anxiety problems in dogs. A dog locked in a small, cramped space at any time of the day or night can turn to shadow hunting. A dog that has been extremely abused in the past can also become compulsive. Whether due to an intense household conflict or the stress and loneliness of the arrival of a new baby, a dog can resort to shadow hunting to cope with life that is spiraling out of control and unsafe.

Other compulsive behaviors

Dogs can display compulsive behavior in a number of ways. Aside from shadow hunting, other relatively common compulsive patterns in canines are spinning, running after the light, non-stop licking, tail hunting, snapping flies, circling, pacing, drinking excessive water, consuming inedible objects, barking, digging, and sucking the region between the Hips and ribs. If your dog is obsessively involved in any of these behaviors, it could be a sign that something is wrong.


You are certainly not helpless in dealing with a dog's shadow hunting compulsion. Promoting a dog's mental well-being and physical fitness can go a long way in curbing an obsessive habit, whether you are encouraging your pet to do at least half an hour of aerobic activity per day or playing brain-stimulating interactive puzzles with them . From a simple and quick walk through the park each night to encouraging your pet to hunt around your house for hidden goodies, do what you can to curb your dog's compulsions. A little extra love and attention can work too. If your dog's situation is particularly severe, ask your veterinarian for recommendations on qualified behavioral researchers in your area.

By Naomi Millburn

The Merck Veterinary Manual: Dog Behavior ProblemsThe Merck Veterinary Manual: Glossary of ConductASPCA: Compulsive Behavior in DogsThe Atlantic: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Leads to OCD in Focus

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