Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

Dogs chase their tails for several reasons and some of them may stem from health issues which is why a veterinary visit is always a good idea to play it safe. The other reasons may be less serious, however, as funny as it may be watching a dog chase his tail, one thing to watch out for is this behavior getting out of hand. This can often happen if you encourage the behavior allowing it to put roots and establish.

Tail Chasing in Puppies 

Tail chasing and puppies seem to go hand in hand, just like cherries on a hot fudge sundae. Why do puppies chase their tails though? Why is tail chasing so popular in these youngsters?

In order to grasp a closer insight into the behavior, it helps to take a closer look into how the world is perceived through a puppy's eyes. Puppies somewhat seem confused about where their bodies start and where they end. That tail doesn't seem to belong to them and they surely find this odd appendage intriguing.  

Tail chasing in puppies is often seen when puppies are separated from their litter mates and mom, and they are brought into their new homes. With no more siblings to play with, puppies may easily grow bored so they're often left to play with whatever moves, and boy do those tails move!

On top of this, balls may end up under couches and dog owners may go to work, but that faithful tail is always there. All the puppy needs to do is acknowledge it, and he's back to tail chasing in no time.

Tail chasing is over all, a very common behavior in puppies. Fortunately, most puppies outgrow this behavior once they find more productive things to do. 

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Tail chasing can be seen in dogs who are confined for too long

Instincts at Play

Dogs are attracted to anything that moves, and their primary instinct is to chase whatever captures their attention. Their eyes are purposely wired to track fast movements. This instinct is particularly strong in certain dog breeds (think high-energy herding breeds like German shepherds or Australian cattle dogs), and when dogs are bored and left with little to do.

Unlike us, dogs don't play Sudoku or do crossword puzzles and they lack the manual dexterity for thumb-twiddling, so when they are bored, they are BORED.

 Left with not much to do, it makes total sense for them to find their own little forms of entertainment. For some dogs it's barking, for others it's digging and for some others, you named it, it's tail chasing!

Coping With Emotions

It often pays to pay attention when certain dogs behaviors occur. In what context does the tail chasing behavior occur? It is not uncommon for dogs to revert to tail chasing in specific circumstances such as when they are full of energy and overly excited. 

So if your dog goes on a bout of tail chasing when you grab the leash, have guests over or when you come home from work, you can almost bet that it's the result of your dog feeling overstimulated and not knowing what to do with all that surplus of energy and excitement.

As with humping behaviors in puppies and running in circles, sometimes dogs chase their tails simply because they really don't know what else to do. They are just looking for an outlet for all their energy and excitement. 

A Displacement Behavior 

Have you ever debated between two different course of actions, and as you were thinking, you started tapping your foot, biting your nails or fiddling with your hair? These behaviors are referred to as displacement behaviors. 

Dogs use displacement behaviors too. For example, suppose that Rover is lying down and a child starts petting him. The dog wants to sleep, but he doesn't dare to growl or snap at the child, so he starts licking instead. 

In a similar fashion, a dog may start tail chasing when he does't know what to do, but is in need of a distraction or a way to "vent" while discharging some energy.

While dog don't go through divorces and don't need to balance their checkbooks, they can lead stressful lives and develop anxiety. Some dogs become so dependent on tail chasing that it soon turns into a compulsive behavior.

Did you know? Some dog breeds may be more prone to tail chasing than others. German shepherds are one example. Bull terriers in particular are also known for spinning in circles, chasing their tails and trancing. According to a study, male bull terriers were at an 8 percent greater risk for the diagnosis of tail chasing compared to females.

Looking for Attention

Some dogs are particularly eager to get any type of attention, even if the attention is of the negative type. So if when your dog chases his tail, and you look at him, talk to him or even laugh, that may be reinforcing the behavior and allowing it to put roots. 

As mentioned, to a dog who craves attention, even attention of the negative type is always better than zero attention. So if you are scolding your dog or perhaps pushing him to stop, this may still qualify as attention and may cause the dog to want to repeat the behavior. 

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Some dogs may develop itchy bottoms, which may cause them to chase their tails

Possible Health Issues

Sometimes, dogs may develop issues in their derrière. Spared from the gift of voice and therefore unable to tell us what's wrong, dogs must take their health matters in their own "paws."

A dog who is insistently chasing the tail may therefore be suffering from some issues with their anal glands or perhaps their butts are itchy due to pesky parasites such as tapeworms.  At other times, perhaps they accidentally got their tail snatched in a door or they may have suffered a bug bite.

If your dog rarely if ever chases his tail and now he shows a new keen interest in it, consider that he may hurt or maybe he just feels itchy. In some cases, tail chasing may also be seen in dogs suffering from seizures. 

Now That You Know...

As seen, tail chasing in dogs may be due to a variety of reasons! The next question though is how can you work on this issue if your dog has taken a strong liking for this behavior? Here are some tips.

  • Have your dog see your veterinarian to rule out health issues. It would be fruitless (and time consuming) to try to fix an issue that stems from an underlying health disorder.
  • Don't encourage the behavior. Ignore it, and even leave the room the moment your dog starts tail chasing. 
  • Prevent tail chasing by providing outlets for pent-up energy and boredom. Offer walks, training, brain games and toys to keep your dog busy and happy. 
  • Severe cases of tail chasing that are difficult to be prevented or redirected, should warrant a visit to a dog behavior professional.  Some dogs may need behavior modification with the help of medications.
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