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Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

A dog may chase its tail to alleviate boredom, get attention or deal with discomfort in the area.
Much like humans, most dogs have a basic desire for attention and affection.
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  • Originally Written By: Malcolm Tatum
  • Revised By: Wanda Marie Thibodeaux
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 14 September 2014
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Most experts think that dogs chase their tails — also known as whirling — for multiple reasons, including boredom, hyperactivity, litter experience and the desire for attention. Other theories assert that the activity comes from the prey drive, stress, discomfort, medical problems or genetics. Much more research is necessary before professionals can say for sure what causes the behavior.

Boredom

A number of professionals believe that dogs chase their tails for one reason: they are bored. Essentially, there is nothing going on that captures the dog’s attention, so when the animal catches sight of the tail on the edges of its line of vision, it notices the movement. The fact the tail is attached is not really a consideration, but the movement and the chance for some physical and mental activity is attractive. Frequent tail chasing might be a sign that it's time for the owner to provide some other amusements.

Hyperactivity

Another idea that might explain why whirling is more common for young dogs is that puppies tend to be more energetic than adults. They might resort to it as a pastime because they want something physical to do. Once they get tired enough, they usually stop.

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Experience from Litter

Although this behavior can show up at any age, it seems to be more common with pups. Part of the reason for this might be that, in a litter, it's pretty standard for the tail of one animal to be close to the face of another. The dogs might chase their own tails when they're young because they don't yet really grasp that they're going after their own body part.

Attention and Conditioning

Similar to people, most dogs have a basic desire for attention and affection. When owners react positively to the behavior, such as rewarding their pets with a treat or some petting, the animals eventually learn that they can use tail chasing to manipulate what people do and get what they want. In essence, they whirl because they've been conditioned to do it.

Prey Drive

Before people domesticated them thousands of years ago, dogs were mainly pack animals that relied on their instincts to live, one of which was the prey drive, or the natural desire to chase and kill smaller things to eat. One theory is that a dog seeing its own tail is acting on this compulsion to a certain degree, attempting to catch it in the same way it would catch animals for food. According to some experts, dogs might go after themselves in this way because they aren't connected well enough to their environment, often described as "needing to connect the front end to the hind end" or "needing to stay in its head." They respond so strongly to the prey instinct and memories of physical pain or annoyance that they don't process other things in their surroundings that could clue them in that it's their own tail they're attacking.

Stress

Looking at whirling as being in the same category as other compulsive behaviors dogs do, another possibility is that it evolves as a stress response. The animal might use it as a distraction from the negative feelings that happen when it is abused, for example, or when it is overstimulated and too excited. If this is the case, it might start in response to just one thing and then spread out to others, becoming a more generalized coping mechanism.

Discomfort

Dogs also may choose to chase their tails because there is a physical problem or discomfort of some type, such as an itchy infection. Canine behavior demands that the animal attempt to address the origin of the discomfort, so they try as hard as they can to reach to their hind end. This might be the issue if the behavior starts relatively randomly.

Underlying Medical Conditions and Genetics

Veterinarians and researchers are looking into the possibility that this behavior stems from physical imbalances in a dog's system, which might be linked to genetics. Perhaps most notable in this area is a 2010 study led by Dr. Nicholas Dodman of Tufts University Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, which showed that tail chasing is more common in animals that have vitamin B6 and vitamin C deficiencies or that have been neutered. Dodman's team also discovered that, when looking at Bull Terriers and German Shepherds, animals that chased their tail also seemed less outgoing and didn't like to be exposed to noise as much. Dobermans with a variant in the cadherin 2 gene engaged in flank sucking more frequently than those that didn't have it. Even though this is not the same as tail chasing, it is still significant because it strongly suggests that canine behavior and genetics are linked, and that people might find a specific part of a dog's DNA that ties to whirling with additional research.

Veterinary professionals and scientists looking into this issue still have a long way to go before they prove anything conclusively, but the hope is that future discoveries will open the door to treating the problem with medication. This solution would not be appropriate for all canines, but it might provide some relief for many of them. Over time, if people do find a genetic connection, it might be possible to use techniques such as selective breeding to weed it out.

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Discuss this Article

anon946540
Post 35

My dog is almost 8 years old. She likes to twist back and forth until she whips around quick enough to grab her tail on one side. She only does this when she is in the line of sight of my other dog, and this action usually initiates a wrestling match between the two of them.

anon277497
Post 34

@52521. I am a certified trainer and have experience with deaf dogs. Start to give positive reinforcements,(treats) at the same time as turning on a flashlight. The dog will learn that the flashlight is desirable. Then use the flashlight to interrupt the unwanted behavior. Redirect at this moment. This is the basis of all good training.

If your dog chases his tail, he needs more exercise or he needs medication if it is an obsession. That is sad, because a dog with ocd is not in good shape.

anon257408
Post 33

Maybe our dogs all chase their tails because they do not get enough running outside exercise. They run in circles to get out the pent-up energy and then get so dizzy they take a nap afterwards.

anon242763
Post 32

My newly adopted boxer 11/2 yrs has started chasing his tail (incessantly) so much so that I think he must have some kind of disorder. No bugs, no abrasions and also no tail. I'm frantic! Any suggestions?

anon229821
Post 31

I think my dog chases her tail when she is anxious. She only does it if there is a sudden noise like thunder or a dog barking outside. She doesn't seem to do it for fun. It's more frenzied.

anon182811
Post 30

I am a trainer I take dogs in shelters and turn them into service dogs. I have found that dogs that have been in shelters for long periods chase their tails and run in tight circles in an OCD manner that is near impossible to break. I think it is from being broken from confinement and lack of socialization.

A lot of dogs will chase their tails as a form of OCD or lick their paws. There are meds available from your vet if it becomes a problem to the point where they are injuring themselves.

anon152391
Post 28

my dog is crazy. all he ever does is chase his tail. he will stop for a min and just start again. it is all he does if he isn't out having a walk.

anon139984
Post 27

The only time my dog chases her tail is when she has a treat or food. It is real fluffy like a fox's tail. I think when she sees it moves she thinks it is another dog trying to get her treat or food.

anon123166
Post 26

I have no clue. The best suggestion I've found is that the dog is bored. My pup doesn't do it (Chihuahua) but my neighbors dog is manic about it. Until I get her involved in playtime and the other three (Chihuahuas) start to join in, but she is a skittish Chihuahua, and I think until they relax in their immediate environment they're just going to be a bit self conscious.

My question would be: has anyone been successful at taking a picture of a grouping of four Chihuahuas? It is making me chase my own tail trying to get them to all pay attention for a fraction of a second so I can get a good picture of them all together!

anon122636
Post 25

i think dogs are actually aliens from another planet put here to observe us and discover our ways. When they dream and they twitch they are really communicating through telepathic capabilities. call me crazy but the next time you call your dog stupid, think twice.

anon116143
Post 24

my dog (no my son's dog he brought home) will not stop, i mean, not stop chasing his tail! I've tried everything: chili power, tabasco sauce, hot sauce on the tail and nothing works. He's eating his own tail off. I have found this site and have been educated. thank you.

anon94663
Post 23

My dog is absolutely crazy. he will chase his tail and growl at it then get real mad and bite his leg. What is his issue? Sometimes he wont even stop to play ball. He hates his tail. I don't think he has worms or fleas or anything. Is this normal?

anon93417
Post 22

People used to think dogs chased their tails because they were dumb and didn't know it was their tail. Why do dogs chase their tails? Only the owners know why their dogs chase their tails.

Mine does it because she's bored; same reason my nephew spins around for hours. She knows it's her tail because she'll catch it and let it go to continue chasing.

Nobody knows dogs better than their owners, So ask yourself why your dog is chasing his tail -- most likely you already know the answer.

Better yet, observe your dog and let him tell you.

anon90897
Post 21

My staffy is two years old and constantly chases her tail when my boyfriend kisses me or pays attention to me. We try everything to get her to stop, but often fail. What are some ways you have used to break your dog out of this habit?

anon78382
Post 19

my staffy dog is called tess and she chases her tail every day but why do they do that? Does anybody know?

anon77380
Post 18

my dog is a puppy called stelino. he chases his tail a lot because he likes his tail a lot. and sometimes he plays with his tail. He hates other dogs and cats and when he sees another dog he bites him.

He loves to eat and drink. He licks my face and hands a lot. He loves me a lot. He likes to run. love aurora, six years and my dog, rome, italy.

anon74152
Post 16

My dog spins around to get at his tail and in the process whacks it against the fence, shed etc. until it bleeds. If I leave him alone for an hour, it looks like jack the ripper has been in the yard and then i am quickly off to the vet.

anon72890
Post 15

I give my dog plenty of attention but my dog chases her tail and I have suspected and mentioned it to my vet. 140 dollars worth of antibiotics later, for something I didn't even see signs of besides the never ending chase. She's a 15 month old apbt and I'm concerned she may become OCD. Is it inhumane to chop it off? kidding, although a friend told me it's illegal to dock dog tails in our state. Any comments?

anon52343
Post 12

my dog chases her leg and actually grabs it. lol

anon52342
Post 11

my puppy will be playing with his brother. they are 5 months old. He will stop playing and start chasing his tail for a few minutes. Only thing is he barely has a tail. He is a small Boston Terrier and the tail is about an inch long. He can't even see it.

But his brother is a Puggle and when they are playing chase the Boston likes to stop the puggle by grabbing onto his tail and stopping him in his tracks.

anon51521
Post 10

This is crazy -- funny, but crazy. My dog is deaf and she will go for at least an hour chasing her tail. I've tried multiple times to keep her attention, but they don't seem to work. Help!

anon45736
Post 9

One of my dogs (Daisy) has chased her tail since she was a puppy. She's two now and she still does it. She always does it when she is in the middle of playing with Gizmo (my other dog). She chases it for like 10 seconds and continues playing with Gizmo. i do not think she is bored. I guess it just depends on the dog.

anon41341
Post 8

My little Shih Tzu chases his tail. He gets plenty of love I just think sometimes he hates it.

anon32173
Post 7

My dog chases her tail, but as she is the same colour as my hair...loves it when i have my hair in a ponytail. She also barks at the water...but then she will attack a tap when it is turned on, but loves swimming in the pool??? lol

anon30471
Post 6

I know a little bit of why dogs chase their tails. Because of high cholesterol levels. Yeah.

anon29845
Post 5

My 3 year-old dog has chased his tail since he was a pup. He seems to do it only when anxiety is an issue or any kind of aggression shown by others around him. Only lasts for about 30 seconds or so. Not boredom in this case.

anon28958
Post 4

I've had several dogs- a few liked water and a couple didn't. Some dogs don't like water because of a previous circumstance. My mom saved a dog from being killed by her owner and we tried to have fun with her by splashing her with water from the hose or a bucket. She'd cower and run away, like she'd had a horrible experience with water.

My advice is while understanding what your dog likes you to share interactively, understand boundaries. Don't force your dog to do anything they're scared of, but have fun with them by doing anything they seem to intensely enjoy :D.

anon23175
Post 3

I have a dog who was born without eyes. Therefore, she cannot see anything, yet she still chases her tail. Her tail chasing seems to mostly originate from boredom.

mdt
Post 2

Dogs differ on this. Some love the movement of running water and want to interact with it. It's visually exciting and it provides a source of entertainment. But some dogs have no use for running water whatsoever. I have a friend who owns a border collie mix that can't stand to be around sprinklers, water hoses, or any source of moving water. He'll keep as much distance between the running water and himself as possible.

anon14536
Post 1

Why do dogs chase water? The hose? My dog loves me to splash her with pool water. She begs to be splashed!

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