Who hasn’t laughed at the sight of a puppy chasing it’s tail? Probably all puppies have played this game at some point. They notice – or are surprised by – this appendage that seems to be following them around, then twist and turn trying to catch it. A puppy chasing his tail is as common as a child spinning in circles.
Many dogs continue the tail-chasing behavior as they get older. For some, it’s just play and they seem to enjoy it. But it could also be a sign that your dog is bored and looking for a way to entertain himself. If you think boredom is an issue, then try providing more interaction time, and offer some new toys and safe things to chew on. In short, broaden your pup’s entertainment options.
Some adult dogs chase their tails because they’ve learned it amuses their owners. If chasing their tail causes you to laugh and give them affection, their tail-chasing activity may be a deliberate bid for your attention. (My dog tends to chase her tail when she wants me to get out of bed in the morning & feed her.) If you want your dog to stop this type of tail-chasing, just stop giving him what he wants. It’s not necessary to be harsh, just divert him to another activity – throw a toy for him to chase, or give a command (“sit” or “down” works well) to interrupt his whirling. Or do what I do: admire that your dog is smart enough to figure out this way of getting your attention, and give her what she wants!
If you sense that your dog’s tail-chasing is somehow unusual or happening for darker reasons, you may have valid reason for concern.
Some dogs chase their tail when there is a physical problem with or near their tail. For example, your dog may have a flea bite at the base of his tail that is driving him crazy. Impacted anal sacs or problems with worms can also cause dogs to chase their tails. Tail-chasing can also occur after physical trauma, surgery or illness.
When a dog spins trying to get to problems with their nether regions, it may appear at first glance like they’re playing, but if you watch closely you’ll notice it looks a little different when a dog is trying to reach an area that’s bothering him. A dog that’s chasing his tail just for fun usually is trying to catch just the tip of its tail, while one that has a physical problem is usually trying to reach the base of his tail or the anal area. He may even be biting and snapping at the offending spot. Try to notice the difference and see what is bothering your dog so you can help him.
In the extreme case, dogs with anxiety issues may develop a tail-chasing compulsion that causes them to twist and spin for hours every day. If your dog has compulsive tail-chasing behavior, you will need help from a vet. The most common treatment is Prozac, and you will also need to work with your dog on behavior modification. Only about two percent of the canine population has canine compulsive disorder, so thankfully in most cases, the problem is not this severe. Most of us can relax and enjoy watching on those occasions when our dogs playfully decide to “go for a spin.”