Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?
Wed, April 21, 2021

Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

 


Dogs sometimes exhibit amusing, playful habits— with one of them being tail-chasing, said Lynn Buzhardt, DVM, of VCA, an operator of more than 1,000 animal hospitals in the US and Canada. Your dog circuitously tries to catch its own tail when exhibiting tail-chasing behavior. Although you might giggle at your dog in its endless pursuit, tail-chasing may not be a laughing matter for your canine.

 

A Study of Canine Tail-Chasing and Human Responses to It Using A Free Video-Sharing Website (2011)

Charlotte C. Burn and Petter Holme of PMC, a biomedical and life sciences journal portal found that 69% of the 400 uploaders of the tail-chasing videos were from the USA, 13.8% is from the UK, 5.8% is from Canada, and 9.8% is from 19 other countries. Tail-chasing frequency was indicated by uploader comments, with 30.2% stating “habitually” (ex: daily, “all the time,” etc.) and 57% periodically (ex: “from time to time,” “regularly,” etc.). Only 12.8% indicated “rare” (ex: “the dog rarely does this,” etc.). In 76 of 198 videos, the researchers also found that the dog was difficult to distract (38.4%) as it did not stop chasing its tail for more than five seconds despite a potential distraction.

They also noted vocalizations during or within five seconds of tail-chasing, with barking (14.8%), growling (21.2%), and growling (21.2%) being heard in the videos. The dogs in the videos also collided with an object during or up to 30 seconds after tail-chasing (25.7%).  25.7% of videos showed tail wagging, with the dog rhythmically moving its tail laterally at least twice in each direction within five seconds of its tail-chasing behavior rather than it remaining still or moving irregularly. 17% of videos had dogs exhibiting play behavior within five seconds of a chasing bout. 63.3% of videos showed a dog biting, licking, or holding its tail or hindquarters or hind leg in its mouth for at least one second.  

Human responses to the tail-chasing were the following: laughter (55%), verbal encouragement such as “Get your tail” and “Get it” (32.9%), “growling” at the dog (1.9%), physical manipulation (19.9%; placing the tail in the mouth and more), tail attachment (3.8%; attaching hair bands, etc.), verbal praise like “good dog” (3.3%), and physical praise (0.6%; patting or stroking the dog). The uploaders described their video as “funny” (58.9%), “crazy” (26%), “cute” (18.8%), “stupid” (15.1%), “silly” (11.2%), “fun” (7.6%), “play” (4.8%), “dizzy” (4.4%).

Meanwhile, the viewers described the videos as “funny” (46%), “cute” (41.7%), “awesome” (11.5%), “stupid” (7.9%), and “crazy” (3.6%). Future research could be aimed at documenting the association between tail-chasing behavior and tail or hindquarter discomfort, for example. Persistent tail-chasing behavior could also aid in diagnosing compulsivity.

 

 

Why Is My Dog Chasing Its Tail?

1. Boredom

It could be out of boredom if you left your dog alone for extended periods. Dogs staying outdoors also get bored because they receive little mental stimulation within their surroundings. To quell their boredom and release their suppressed energy, the dogs resort to tail-chasing to be active and to entertain themselves.

Maybe your dog’s tail-chasing behavior could be attributed to its age. Puppies chew their tails as they become familiar with their body parts. They consider their tails as a toy rather than a part of their body. In this case, intervention is not required. Older dogs, however, exhibit tail-chasing behavior as they have decreased awareness. Hence, they may demonstrate more repetitive behaviors like tail chewing. Chewing is a sign of a cognitive disorder that may require veterinary assistance.

2. Attention-Seeking Behavior

Perhaps tail-chasing is your dog’s way of seeking attention. Attention-deprived dogs respond to both positive and negative attention so your pet may be satisfied even if you scold it. Of course, it prefers that you laugh at its tail-chasing behavior. Therefore, scolding it reinforces the said behavior. The best way to address this problem is to ignore your dog while it is running in circles and praise it when it isn’t.

If your dog chases or bites its tail out of the blue, it is recommended to schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. For example, dogs will chase and chew their tails to relieve pain if their tails got caught in a door or nick them on a sharp object. Further, dogs will also resort to tail-chasing behavior if they are infested with tapeworms and other intestinal parasites or external parasites such as food allergies and fleas.

3. Medical Issues

Dogs will also resort to tail-chasing behavior if they are infested with tapeworms and other intestinal parasites or external parasites such as food allergies and fleas. Medical issues associated with tail-chasing should be diagnosed and addressed by your veterinarian.  They will provide your dog with pain relief for injuries and medications for intestinal parasites and fleas. Your veterinarian will also evacuate your pet’s affected anal glands. A hypo-allergenic diet can also be recommended to address tail-chasing behavior.

4. Genetics

E Yalcin, Y O Ilcol, and H Batmaz of Pub Med, a free digital repository, found that there may be a link between compulsive tail-chasing and high blood and cholesterol levels, cited Erin Ollila of Hill’s Pet, an American pet food company.  In contrast with the control dogs, the 15 tail-chasing behaviors they observed showed significantly higher levels of total cholesterol and high- and low-density lipoprotein cholesterol. However, more research needs to be done on the correlation between genes and tail-chasing.

 

 

How Do I Stop My Dog’s Tail-Chasing Behavior?

Although tail-chasing appears to be harmless and entertaining for you and your dog, you are obligated to monitor this behavior. Your dog, especially if it’s still young, may be at risk of catching their tail and injuring or breaking it in the process. Having your dog undergo a behavior modification therapy is helpful, said Vet West, a leading provider of veterinary care and services. However, this will require you to identify and anticipate when your dog will likely engage in tail-chasing behavior and offer an alternative, such as giving it a chew toy or playing with a ball.

If you reward your dog’s tail-chasing behavior prior to the therapy, it is advisable to remove all rewards and ignore it. Alternatively, drug therapy such as anti-depressant or anti-anxiety medications may be necessary to prevent tail-chasing. Drug therapy can keep compulsive behaviors in control, though it can take several weeks for you to see the effectiveness of the medications.

 

Tail-chasing may be comedic at first glance, but it can be a sign of medical and behavioral issues. Puppies do not require veterinary intervention when engaging in this behavior, but owners need to be aware if the pups are about to injure themselves. Overall, consider seeking help from a veterinarian if your dog continuously engages in tail-chasing behavior.