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Dog Chasing Tail: Complete Guide

Haley Young photo

Haley Young

December 31, 2023

Dog Training

Dog Chasing Tail: Complete Guide thumbnail

Tail chasing has long been a recognized behavior in domestic dogs. There’s a reason the phrase “like a dog chasing its tail” is popularly used to describe someone who isn’t getting anywhere!

But what does it mean, exactly, when your dog chases their tail — and is it a problem? We’ve put together a guide with everything you need to know about this silly antic, including what might cause it and how you can help your pup stop if their tail chasing is an issue.

Is it a problem if your dog chases their tail?

Like most things in the dog training and pet ownership world, the answer here is that it depends.

Some dogs chase their tails on occasion without any ill effects. Other times, though, tail chasing indicates a larger problem — especially if the compulsive behavior is frequent and intense.

Tail chasing can indicate an underlying issue or medical condition

A physically and mentally healthy dog usually won’t spend much time chasing their tail. The next section dives into common reasons your pup might be running in circles, including boredom and stress.

When dogs chase their tails, they can sometimes cause injury

Tail chasing is definitely a problem if your dog is actually hurting themselves — and while it might sound silly at first, this really can happen! Some dogs chase their tails so violently that they actually make contact and bite their own skin. If this is the case, you want to step in to address the tail chewing behavior as soon as possible to mitigate long-term harm.

A bored looking dog lounges on a couch

Why do dogs chase their tails?

There are many reasons a dog might chase their tail — some harmless and temporary while others are more concerning. Here are the most common causes of tail chasing in domestic dogs.

Puppies might chase their tail when first learning about their bodies

This is the most normal, and usually the most benign, type of tail chasing. Some young puppies chew on their own tails as they start to explore the world around them — they might not realize right away that their tail is connected to their body!

Young dogs tend to figure this out pretty quickly, though, and puppy tail chasing should go away on its own without owner intervention. (Chasing the tails of their littermates or other pets in the home might be a different story, though. Puppies sure keep us on our toes!)

Dogs might chase their tails when bored

Boredom is one of the most common negative motivations for tail chasing in adult dogs. Insufficient physical activity and mental stimulation can result in a slew of behavioral problems in our pets — and chasing or chewing on their own body parts is one of them. It’s a way to release pent-up energy that doesn’t require any external input (like toys or environmental distractions).

Tail chasing could be a way to get attention

Similar to boredom chasing, dogs might also chase their tails as an intentional way to get attention. Your pup might have attacked their own rump once or twice within your view — and they might have noticed that you got up from what you were doing to laugh at their bizarre dog behavior, tell them to stop, or simply see if everything was okay. By pattern mapping that tail chasing results in the positive reinforcement of your focus, your dog might now start to chase their tail to initiate play or solicit affection from you!

Remember that for some dogs, even negative attention (like scolding) is desirable when they’re feeling starved for interaction. This does not mean it’s okay to yell at your dog! It does mean that we need to be aware of what messages we’re sending to our pets. If your dog is performing a behavior in the hopes of getting your focus, you need to

  1. Consider if you've been fulfilling their needs with enough alternate activities like physical stimulation and mental enrichment lately, and
  2. Be thoughtful about how you respond so that we don’t accidentally reinforce undesirable compulsive behaviors.

Tail chasing might indicate an acute medical problem like parasites

Some pests (like fleas and ticks on their skin or intestinal parasites in their digestive tracts) along with allergies (to the environment or to foods) can make your pet itchy. They might look like they’re trying to catch their tail when really they’re trying their hardest to grab it in their mouth so they can chew, which is one of the best ways a canine has of scratching an itch.

If your dog shows these signs of discomfort, it could also be possible that their anal glands are inflamed or irritated and they're trying to express them.

If you catch your dog chewing on their tail, hind end, or any other part of their body, it’s a good idea to get in touch with your veterinarian to address any medical issues at play. A full checkup never hurts, especially when you’re not sure what to make of a new behavior you’re noticing.

Some dogs chase their tails due to obsessive compulsive tendencies

Dogs might also get hooked on tail chasing or other repetitive behaviours because they’re stressed, suffering from compulsive disorders,  or dealing with an undiagnosed neurological condition. You might have heard of this risk with laser pointers before — most trainers do not recommend playing with lights, because it runs the risk of making your dog hyper aware of reflections around them — and a similar thing can happen with chasing their tail.

These dogs need support from qualified trainers or veterinary behaviorists to feel more comfortable in the world around them. Remember that it's important to keep your dog in good mental shape along with their physical health!

A terrier runs through a grassy field while happily wagging their tail

Sniffspot Dog running on field

Get safe exercise for your dog by renting a private dog park near you

Genetics might play a role in tail chasing behavior

Your dog’s breed might also play a role in whether or not they chase their tail. The same way some lines of dogs are predisposed to stronger instincts — terriers chasing small critters or herding breeds stalking livestock, for example — genetics can also influence their other habits.

The National Center for Biotechnology Information published an article suggesting that German Shepherds, Bull Terriers, and Anatolian Sheepdogs might be most likely to chase their tails compared to other dog breeds. Jack Russell Terriers are on the list, too — although there isn’t substantive reputable data to confirm these claims.

If your dog chases their tail on occasion, and it doesn’t negatively impact either of your lives, there’s a chance it’s just a quick you don’t need to worry about.

How can you prevent your dog from chasing their tail?

If you think your dog’s tail chasing is a problem — it’s disrupting their daily activities, causing injury, or making you worried that something deeper is wrong — here’s what you can do.

Ask your vet for advice

Like we mentioned above, taking your dog in for a vet checkup is never a bad idea when you notice a new behavior you’re concerned about. They can help you rule out tangible causes like parasites or allergies!

Address the root cause

If your dog is physically healthy but still chasing their tail excessively, consider if they get enough enrichment. Could they be bored or looking for your attention? If so, make an effort to engage in more fulfilling activities with them. Our Comprehensive Guide to Enrichment Activities compiles everything you need to know!

Thankfully, tail chasing is often a simple behavior that’s resolved once you address its underlying cause.

When in doubt, get in touch with a trainer you trust

If you’re worried about your dog’s mental health or struggling to work on their tail chasing on your own, reach out to a force free trainer. They’re here to help! A dog professional will be able to develop an individualized treatment plan to get you and your pup back on the right track.

Get your dog the safe enrichment they need by renting a Sniffspot

Sniffspot Dog swimming in pool
Haley Young photo

Haley Young

December 31, 2023

Dog Training

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