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Top 8 reasons why dogs chase their tails

borwn border collie holding tail in mouth on snowy field © Ksenia Raykova - Shutterstock

You may have seen dogs chasing their tails, but have you ever wondered what is going through their minds when they do this? Here’s everything you need to know about tail chasing.

By Justine Seraphin

Updated on the

It’s a commonly known behaviour in dogs: Tail chasing. It can be a very entertaining sight, but the truth behind it can be far less funny.

Now, tail chasing isn’t always bad, but if your dog does this, you have to be on the lookout for signs of both physical or mental issues, just in case. Here’s what you need to know about tail chasing in dogs.

Why do dogs chase their tails?

There are many reasons why a dog may chase it’s tail. It’s important to look at any other behaviours they might be displaying to figure out whether the tail chasing is something to worry about.

1. Boredom

Tail chasing can be a sign of under-stimulation. Dogs with lots of energy who don’t get the opportunity to exercise, play, or challenge their brains enough may feel frustrated and redirect their excess energy into tail chasing. It’s a game and also good exercise, so it’s a way for them to keep themselves busy when they’ve got nothing else to do.

2. Attention-seeking

Tail chasing gets people’s attention, that’s for sure. And if you’ve ever reinforced the behaviour by looking at your dog and laughing at them when they do it, then your dog is going to want to do it more! They’re putting on a show for you and hope it’ll get them the attention they crave.

3. Compulsion

If your dog seems to tail chase constantly, then this could be a sign of a compulsive disorder.  Much like OCD in humans, compulsive behaviours are exaggerated, performed out of context, and get in the way of the dog’s normal behaviours. Compulsive behaviours can stem from a number of reasons (e.g. confinement, abuse, trauma, anxiety, etc). They often start as a way for the dog to comfort themselves, and then become almost “addicting”, which is why they are so repetitive. It is essentially a way for a dog to “self-soothe” when they’re dealing with mental issues.

4. Fleas and ticks

Tail chasing could also be a sign of a physical ailment. For example, they could be feeling really itchy due to a flea or tick infestation. They might be trying to chase their tails so they can grab it and bite it or chew it to relieve some of their itchiness. 

5. Medical conditions

Tail chasing could also be a sign of something more serious. Pain or discomfort of any kind can incite a dog to chase their tail. This behaviour could be a sign of an upcoming seizure, or a cancer developing, for instance.

6. Age

Puppies tend to chase their tails a lot when they’re discovering their own bodies. They’re essentially thinking “Hey, what’s that thing that’s always following me? I’ll grab it and find out!” On the other end of the spectrum, senior dogs may start to chase or chew their own tails as their awareness decreases.

7. Genetics

Some breeds of dog tend to chase their tails more than others. German Shepherds and terriers for example, are well-known for their tail chasing behaviours. No-one really knows why this is. However, these breeds are high energy, so their tail chasing could be related to boredom, frustration, or anxiety as a result of not being mentally or physically exercised enough.

8. Excitement

Some dogs get so excited they just don’t know what to do with themselves! This is the same energy that drives behaviours like zoomies, or grabbing a toy when you get home. It’s a simple expression of joy that happens in moments when they’re purely over-excited!

Dogs chasing their tails: Is it bad?

This depends on why your dog is chasing their tail. If the tail chasing happens occasionally when your dog is excited, then this is surely nothing to worry about. Similarly if you own a puppy and they’re just playing and discovering their bodies.

However, if the behaviour starts to become excessive or repetitive, this could be a sign of a physical or mental issue. In this case, you’re going to have to seek help.

How do you stop a dog from chasing its tail?

If your dog chases its tail occasionally as a form of excitement or attention-seeking, then the best way to discourage them from doing it is by ignoring them! Scolding them is still a form of attention, even if it’s negative, so it won’t necessarily discourage your dog from chasing their tail. The best thing to do is ignore your pup when they do it, and reward them when they are calm and acting normally.

It’s also a good idea to try physically and mentally exercising your dog more, as tail chasing can be a sign of boredom. Take your dog for longer walks and purchase puzzle toys and brain games (or make them yourself!). 

However, if your dog tail chases excessively, then you should consult a vet as soon as possible. Tail chasing could be a sign of a medical condition, and it’s important to rule these out before you try any behavioural modification.

If your vet hasn’t found any medical problems with your dog, then it could be that your dog’s tail chasing is compulsive. Compulsive behaviours are typically treated with a combination of medications to alleviate your dog’s anxiety and a behavioural modification program designed by a professional behaviourist. Compulsive behaviours are hard to treat and sometimes never fully go away, but trying to treat them can alleviate some of your dog’s stress - and that’s good enough.

Does your dog chase their tail? Let us know in the comments below!

Frequently asked questions

Are dogs that chase their tails dumb?

Do dogs know their tail is attached to them?

Do dogs get dizzy from chasing their tails?

Does your dog chase their tail? Why do you think they do it?
1 comment
jimdavis
My Millie has always chased her tail! I assume because she's a rescue it was just something she did to cope with stress and she never stopped doing it. I don't think she's stressed anymore! She's very spoiled 🤣
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