Why do dogs chase their tails?
Even if your dog is driving you crazy, they always seem to do something adorable that makes you forget all that bad stuff. Chasing their own tail is one of those things. A very cute and classic canine behaviour, a dog chasing their tail is usually just one of those funny antics that they get up to for entertainment, whether that be ours or theirs.
Although, tail chasing can sometimes be an indicator of something more if it becomes excessive, so it’s good to be aware of why your pooch might be displaying this habit.
Exploring and playing
As your puppy begins to explore their surroundings, they may begin to think, ‘what’s this strange thing that follows me around all day?’ Most puppies like to figure out the ins and outs of their own body, so tail chasing may just be so they can try and catch a glimpse of what is going on back there.
You’ve likely learnt this the hard way before, but absolutely anything can be a chew toy for a puppy, whether that be the furniture, your hands and even their own tail.
Spinning round and round in endless circles trying to catch their tail is probably just harmless play that happens to be very funny for us to watch. It works both ways, your dog is entertained and so are you!
Busting the boredom
Your dog may be bored if they’re on their own and trying to burn off some extra energy. Chasing their own tail provides them with some form of entertainment.
If you’re in your dog’s company but not giving them your complete, undying attention, they may try coming up with a way to get that attention (dogs often think that you have nothing else to do but play with them 24/7!)
Our dogs are clever, they know how to make us notice them. Tail chasing is one of the most adorable things dogs can do and when you respond with a laugh or an ‘aww’, they’re getting exactly what they wanted – it’s a type of paw-sitive reinforcement.
Tail chasing is an invitation for you to interact with them. Reacting to the behaviour, even if for whatever reason you are telling them to stop, you are still giving them the attention they crave.
Maybe your dog is a little clumsy, and they got their tail trapped in the door or sustained an injury to their tail. They may think that if they manage to catch it, they can soothe the pain for a moment.
Another thing that could be making your pooch uncomfortable are parasites like fleas and ticks. These pesky parasites could be residing in your dog’s tail which will cause it to be itchy and irritated. Your dog may even try to bite their tail to relieve the itch, which will only cause more harm than good.
If you have an older, not so playful dog who doesn’t usually tail chase you are likely to notice this strange behaviour quickly. Be sure to contact your vet straight away if you suspect this, as parasites can be extremely irritating and unpleasant for your pooch.
Less likely, but tail chasing could be indicative of an underlying health issue. The habit is linked to medical concerns such as infections, skin conditions and even psychomotor seizures. Psychomotor seizures are not like a typical seizure, they cause your dog to exhibit odd behaviour such as biting non-existent objects and chasing their tail frantically.
If you suspect any of these medical concerns you should seek advice from your vet immediately.
It’s in their nature
For some breeds, tail chasing is just something they want to do instinctively. It’s simply in their genetics to do it. To be specific, German Shepherds and Bull Terriers are well known to be notorious tail chasers.
There isn’t a precise explanation as to why these breeds are known to display this behaviour, it has just been mutually agreed by many that it’s in their genetic predisposition.
If your pooch’s tail chasing has become obsessive and nonstop, it could be described as a form of canine compulsive disorder. This is the repetitive urge to do something to the point where it can have a negative impact on everyday life.
Sometimes these compulsions can develop for no reason at all, but they can also be anxiety induced. For instance, your dog may begin chasing their tail to relieve the pain after sustaining an injury to it, which is when they may start to view this as a soothing action.
Consequently, it can become a natural response they turn to when they feel uncomfortable and eventually turn into a compulsion.
It’s comparable to when we humans bite our nails when feeling stressed and anxious. Constantly biting at their own tail can be harmful and self-destructive, so seeking guidance from your vet is a good idea when you consider their tail chasing to be abnormal.
Stopping this behaviour
If you want to discourage this behaviour, it requires constant vigilance and patience. Rather than reacting to the behaviour when it’s happening, it’s best to try and predict when your dog is about to chase their tail.
Before they begin tail chasing, introduce an alternate distraction such as throwing a ball, redirecting with a verbal command or giving them a chew.
If you think this behaviour is out of hand and impacting your dog negatively, you must consult your vet so they can recommend a behavioural modification regime.
Additionally, if you notice that your dog is merely just attention-seeking, ignore the behaviour completely and they will soon realise tail chasing is a useless endeavour. However, your dog may just be bored and need more stimulation throughout the day.
If you think that’s the case, try introducing extra physical exercise or mental enrichment activities. This could include giving them a puzzle toy, teaching them a trick, or hiding something for them to sniff out.
Overall, tail chasing is more than likely nothing to worry about. Just one of the adorable, hilarious antics our pooches get up to. Occasionally, the habit can be something a little more serious. If you think this is the case, get in touch with your vet for advice.
- Tail chasing can be a behavioural or medical problem Canadian Veterinary Medical Association, 2012
- Repetitive behaviours in cats and dogs: Are they really a sign of obsessive-compulsive disorders (OCD)? The Canadian Veterinary Journal, 54, (2), Feb 2013, 129-131
- Environmental effects on compulsive tail chasing in dogs PLOS one, 7, (7), 2012, doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0041684
- Characteristics of compulsive tail chasing and associated risk factors in Bull Terriers Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association, 238, (7), April 2011, 883-889