Why do dogs chase their tails?


Why do dogs chase their tails? Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith explains why dogs chase their tails, and how to discourage this behaviour...

Tail chasing is often mistakenly encouraged by well-meaning owners. However, this habit can become too ingrained and affect the dog's well-being and welfare. In some cases the activity becomes a compulsive behaviour, and there are some breeds which display this more than others (including Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and German Shepherds). Many young dogs will chase their tails when they are excited or frustrated.

If your dog chases his tail, you now need to work very hard to encourage calm behaviour instead. Try to interrupt the tail chasing at the very first sign that it is about to begin. This can be with a verbal cue, such as ‘Leave it', or a loud clap. As soon as your dog pauses you should praise and encourage him to perform another more acceptable activity. This activity should result in lots of praise and attention from you.

Make sure that your dog has lots of ways to use up his energy; plenty of exercise, training to work his brain, and toys (to play with on his own and with you). Changing habits takes time but if you are consistent, you should see an improvement.

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If your dog continues to chase his tail, then there may be an underlying cause - including focal seizures, pain issues, hyperthyroidism, gut imbalances, and food intolerances. If your dog is given a clean bill of health, the next thing to consider is psychological issues: could your dog's emotional state be the cause of his behaviour?

Many dogs suffer from anxiety or boredom, spending hours alone without appropriate levels of physical or mental stimulation. Others live with conflict in their lives, forced to share space with other animals or even people who scare them. Or maybe their personalities simply mean they don't get along. 

You need to examine every aspect of your dog's life with a fine-toothed comb and ensure you meet all his physical, mental, and emotional needs in order to start changing the behaviour.