Not gonna lie, it’s cute and very funny when a dog chases its tail. They move in frantic circles and look like absolute goofs. Don’t they know they’re chasing a body part they’ll never really catch? The truth is, sometimes they do know and don’t care! Other times, constant tail-chasing indicates a mental or medical issue worth further investigation. Tails are actually extensions of the canine spine. VCA Animal Hospitals says dog tails are made up of “bone, muscle, nerves and blood vessels.” So, pretty important. If you often ask yourself why your dog is chasing its tail, it’s time to check things out.
Is it bad for a dog to chase its tail?
When tail chasing happens rarely or only in a dog’s early puppy days, it’s not a concern. However, if your dog chases its tail regularly or begins this behavior later in life, something could be wrong. One study reports that some dogs aren’t actually chasing their tails, they are simply spinning. This is concerning because it means something psychological is going on with your pup. It should be answered with a visit to the vet. The study also advises against encouraging tail chasing behavior as it can develop into an anxiety-inducing habit (or, at the very least, your dog’s preferred method of blowing off steam).
7 reasons why your dog is chasing its tail
Intelligent breeds (like Dobermans and Poodles) grow bored easily if left alone for long stretches or aren’t provided with activities that challenge their minds. Even if your dog’s IQ isn’t super high, they can still get bored with routine or get sick of visiting the same park every day. Boredom can manifest in tail-chasing. The tail is there, ready to chase, and they’ll go for it to entertain themselves. Chasing tails could also be a way to burn excess energy built up over time. To remedy the issue, make sure your dog gets outside for runs, walks and playtime frequently throughout the day (or amp up the activity level when you do take them out). When they’re home, try interactive toys or brain-busting treat puzzles.
2. Separation and generalized anxiety
Separation anxiety occurs when dogs are regularly left alone for too long or a sudden shift in your schedule means less time spent with them. Dogs could resort to entertaining themselves with unsafe or unhealthy habits, including chasing their tails. General anxiety disorders aren’t uncommon in dogs and could be the cause of OCD-like behavior, such as excessive licking or tail chasing. If you notice a heightened pursuit of their rear ends during storms, when your dog meets new people or every time you leave the house, try serving up some calming dog treats in an interactive toy to ease anxiety. Then, replace unhealthy behaviors with healthy outlets! Even a few days a week with a dog walker or at a dog day care center could help ease your pup’s loneliness.
3. Young puppies exploring
Puppies are typically the biggest perpetrators of chasing their own tails. This makes total sense considering they are brand new to the world and eager to explore everything—including their own bodies. Chewing and licking stuff is a puppy’s way of learning about their environment. Yes, they teethe, but they also absorb information through taste and scent. Chewing their tails shouldn’t be encouraged, but let them chase for a bit if they’re having fun! Then, introduce toys designed for teething pups or balls they can run after instead.
Yes, dogs can break their tails! If your dog was recently hit by a car or suffered a fall, it’s possible the bones in their tail were fractured. Tails can also suffer nerve damage if pulled or strained. These types of problems may not be noticeable right away, so look for other clues. For example, excessive tail-chasing paired with uncharacteristic accidents in the house or sensitivity to touch could indicate an invisible tail injury. On the other hand, cuts or scrapes that you can see should be treated right away to prevent infection. Dogs may want to lick a cut on their tail which could make it worse over time.
5. Infection or infestation
Should a cut become infected, your dog might chase its tail in frustration over the pain or irritation. Fleas and ticks could also have made themselves a fancy new home along your pup’s tail. Dr. Steve Weinberg, DVM, tells the American Kennel Club that some dogs fixate on their tails because they are actually suffering from cancer or seizures. If this behavior persists, it’s wise to go in for a vet check-up to see if an underlying condition is the culprit.
While less serious than cancer, allergies can still cause a great deal of discomfort in dogs. Lots of itching, chasing or nibbling at their tails could indicate an allergic reaction. Go through a simple checklist (did you recently change doggy shampoos or food?) to determine if allergies could be the cause.
As we’ve learned from licensed dog trainers and behaviorists, dogs interpret scolding and praise the same way. In both scenarios, we’re giving our dog attention. If chasing their tails gets a rise out of us, they may keep doing it if they enjoy that attention or want more. After determining they aren’t in pain, don’t have allergies, have outgrown their puppy stage and gotten plenty of exercise, you can probably assume they are chasing their tails for your benefit. To curb this cycle, try ignoring the behavior or diverting their attention elsewhere. Interrupt the tail-chasing with a game of fetch (followed by a reward). Attention-seeking behavior isn’t super healthy for any dog; halt it before it really takes hold.