Just about every dog owner, at one time or another, has wondered, “Why do dogs chase their tails?” Tail chasing can be cute. But obsessive chasing could be a sign of a mental or physical issue that needs to be checked out by a veterinarian.
Here are a few of the reasons behind tail chasing in dogs, and some of the steps you can take to stop tail chasing behavior if your pooch has started to get a little carried away.
Why Are Some Dogs Tail Chasers?
While most people might associate tail chasing with puppies – and, in a lot of cases, it’s normal behavior for a young dog – adult dogs will frequently do it as well. Most of the time, this is actually normal behavior. So, why do dogs chase their tails? Here are just a couple of potential reasons.
- Genetics – Certain breeds simply have a genetic predisposition to tail chasing. It’s not really clear why this is the case, but Terriers and German Shepherds are two of the breeds that chase their tails more often than others. If these breeds have to stay inside for extended periods of time, they may be more prone to tail chasing behavior.1
- They have too much pent up energy – Some tail chasers just have a lot of energy, and they’re looking to release it in some way. They might not be getting enough exercise or other types of physical stimulation, or they might need a new chew toy or some other type of alternate activity. Once their activity levels increase, you may see less tail chasing.2
A Sign Of Play
Some dogs have to stay in all day because their owners have to go to work. These pups may miss having a lot of personal connection with the ones they love. Some of these dogs might chase their tail in order to pass some time. Even if a dog gets to go outside during the day, looking at the same scenery, and not having their play buddy around, could make them bored as well.3
If this describes your pooch, try mixing in a game of fetch when you get back home, or leave your pet some food puzzle toys while you’re gone to give them a little mental stimulation. That could help get their tail chasing behaviour under control.4
Your pup might just be putting on a show for your entertainment. Dogs are very social, and they love getting attention from their pet parents. Even if their tail chasing leads to negative attention, they don’t care – they’ll keep right on doing it.5,6
If you’re not happy about all the tail chasing for attention, it’s best to just ignore it. Eventually, your pooch will stop. Now, if the behavior gets to be too much, or you’re concerned there might be an issue, it might be time to talk to your vet and see what they recommend.
A Potential Medical Condition
In some cases, tail chasing behavior might be a sign of a medical issue. For example, tail chasing that leads to tail biting may indicate the dog is experiencing pain. Tapeworms or other internal parasites can sometimes move outside a dog’s body and get on the tail, causing the dog to chase as a result.7
You may also see your dog chasing their tail because they simply have an itchy spot in that location. It could be due to fleas or even food allergies. Impacted anal glands can result in tail chasing, as can issues that affect the spine and cause discomfort.8,9
A Potential Mental Condition
Tail chasing can be the result of mental issues as well. Some people have a condition known as obsessive compulsive disorder, which can lead to repetitive behaviors – like cleaning a certain area of their home over and over again.
Dogs can have something similar, known as canine compulsive disorder, or CCD. CCD often results in not only compulsive tail chasing, but other obsessive behavior as well, such as continually licking their fur. This behavior can lead to substantial hair loss.10
If you simply can’t get your pet to stop chasing their tail, you should take them to your vet to get recommendations on what to do next. Your vet will be able to put together a plan of action, such as prescribing behavior modification medications, such as canine antidepressants.
Ways An Animal Behaviorist May Be Able To Help
Your vet may also direct you to someone who specializes in mental issues affecting pets, such as an animal behaviorist or a behavior consultant. If your dog is tail chasing due to separation anxiety or some other type of fear, the consultant may recommend systematic desensitization. This involves exposing a dog to low levels of whatever scares them and gradually building to a point to where it doesn’t scare them anymore.11
A behavior consult with a professional could uncover a problem such as displacement behavior.12 This is where dogs suddenly chase their tail out of the blue, in response to a stimulus that would otherwise be completely normal. It could be something like you cheering while watching your favorite team on television or performing some other type of completely natural behavior, such as hugging your spouse.
How To Keep Your Pooch From Chasing Their Tail
There are a few things you can try on your own to try and reduce tail chasing. As you learned earlier, you could try ignoring the behavior, or playing with your dog more often, or taking them for more walks.
If your pooch is suffering from separation anxiety, try giving them food puzzle toys while you’re away from home to help them pass the time. If you notice tail biting, check your pup’s tail carefully, and talk to your vet if you see any sort of open wound or signs of infection. No matter how annoying your dog’s tail chasing may be to you, you should never punish the dog in any way. The last thing you want to do is to damage the awesome connection you have with your pooch. Always provide positive reinforcement rather than dole out punishment.
Even though you might find tail chasing annoying, there’s probably some sort of reason why it’s happening. Talking to your vet will go a long way toward determining the cause of the behavior, and ways to stop it for good.