A dog's tail serves a number of purposes. It helps with balance and keeps them upright when running around a corner quickly. It's also a means of letting you and other dogs know what they are thinking and feeling. Some dogs chase their tail. While it may look like they're playing a game, tail-chasing can also mean something entirely different.
When a dog tries to catch that moving furry appendage at their rear end and it is always just a little out of reach, they can become obsessive about it. They can spin and twist trying to get hold of it and if they do, their teeth can damage the skin. Another manifestation of this behavior is "spinning", where a dog repeatedly turns in tight circles without any obvious interest in their tail.
Why do some dogs constantly try to catch their tail? There are a number of reasons, including anxiety and boredom. There appears to be a genetic link to this type of behavior; some litters have a number of affected dogs. There is some suggestion that nutrition, maternal care, and whether a dog is neutered may also play a role in whether a dog chases their tail. In fact, tail chasing is thought to be very much like obsessive-compulsive disorders in people. It's important that if you notice your dog doing this, you put a stop to it before it becomes an obsession. Here are some things you can do to help.
Avoid laughing or giving your dog any attention for chasing their tail. This will reward them for the behavior and we know that any behavior that is rewarded is repeated.
An important part of managing compulsive behaviors is environmental enrichment to alleviate boredom. This means using food-dispensing toys at meal times to make your pet work for their kibble. Regular playtime with balls and Frisbees will help, as will a fast walk or jog – this releases chemicals in the brain that make dogs feel calm and relaxed.
Sometimes a canine friend will help to alleviate loneliness and prevent boredom. Before you bring home another family dog, check your budget to make sure there's room in it for the extra expenses and think about what will happen if your dogs don't get along. One option may be to foster a dog for a rescue group with the option to adopt if it works out for your own pet.
In many cases, veterinarians will prescribe anti-anxiety medication to control obsessive behaviors such as tail chasing. These are not used as a sole treatment but instead as part of a complete behavior modification program which also includes environmental enrichment.
Because tail chasing and other such compulsive activities are thought to have a genetic basis in some breeds, it's essential that affected dogs not be bred. Genetic testing to identify dogs with the chromosomal abnormality isn't yet available.
Tail chasing can be challenging to manage and it may be necessary to seek out advice from a veterinary behaviorist. If you can identify what's triggering the behavior and resolve that, there's a good chance it can be stopped.