Wanted: Dobies with Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD)

We have just completed a most interesting genetic study of blanket sucking/flank sucking Doberman Pinschers and have found what we think is the gene underlying this behavioral discrepancy. The gene in question expresses itself in areas of the brain known to be affected in OCD in humans and affects processes now thought to be instrumental in propagating OCD.

With delight and surprise, scientists refer to canine compulsive disorders as “models” of the human condition and see them objectively as ripe for study, which they are. But we all know that dogs and people are more alike than different, so to us it comes as no surprise that they have similar psychological issues. Nevertheless, it’s good to have psychiatrists and dog behaviorists on the same page because that way we will get more done for both species.

To complement our latest findings, we wish to take things a stage further by “imaging” the brains of Dobermans with and without OCD.  Sophisticated MRI is our chosen tool and some canine candidates are already enrolled and ready to go – but we need a few more.

The idea is to show that dogs with the canine equivalent of OCD, specifically Dobie’s with blanket/flank sucking, exhibit the same structural changes in their brains as people with OCD. Because routine MRI is not sophisticated enough to show these changes, we plan to use MRI images and manipulate them by means of a computer program to produce a highly detailed 3-dimensional image of each dog’s brain. Images of unaffected dogs’ brains would be used to create a template against which affected dogs brain structure will be compared. The technique, known as Voxel-Based Morphometry (VBM), is not only applicable to dogs with OCD but possibly could be used to diagnose, assess and monitor dogs with other behavior problems as well, including aggression, fears and phobias.

When you take into consideration that memory centers in the brains of London taxi drivers literally grow in size when they acquire “the knowledge” of routes around that city and shrink again when the taxi drivers retire, you can see how plastic the brain is and how it reflects what we (and our dogs) do.

In the future, it may be possible to screen, confirm diagnoses or assess response to treatment for various canine behavior problems by conducting VBM imagery of the dogs’ brains. With that in mind, if any of you in the Northeast region who have a Doberman that you might be willing to enroll your dog in our study and if you live near enough to visit us, please give us a call.  All medical tests needed prior to the MRI would be covered by us and amount to a full health screen, including ultrasound to rule out cardiomyopathy – all free!  The number to call is 508-887-4640 (my assistant Ronni Tinker) who will connect you with a member of our team. Go Dobies!