Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

Border Collie catching his own tail while outdoors

If you've ever spent any time with a dog, you've probably seen him chase his tail at least once. Some dogs only do it every once in a while, but others live for the chase and can spend hours running in circles trying to catch that elusive thing following them around. In most cases, your dog chasing his tail is perfectly normal. However, if you've noticed that your dog seems to be obsessed about catching his tail or there are other indications of a health or behavioural issue, you may want to work on curbing this behaviour. Learn why dogs chase their tails below and what you can do about it if it becomes a problem.

Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

In many cases, your dog is probably chasing his tail because it's there, and it's fun. However, there may be several reasons your dog is chasing his tail, and some of them may need a closer look or warrant a vet checkup. Below we cover six of the most common reasons your dog chases his tail.

1. Boredom

Boredom in dogs is one of the most common reasons for behavioural issues, and while chasing his tail is one of the more benign things your dog could do when he's bored, it's a possible reason. If you notice that your dog is chasing his tail a lot when you aren't home, he's been crated for most of the day, or he missed his walk, it's possible that lack of physical and mental stimulation is behind the tail chasing behaviour. 

If your dog isn't exhibiting other signs of anxiety or boredom, such as problematic chewing, barking, separation anxiety or destroying things around the house, you may not need to do anything about the tail chasing. But if you want to give your dog a better outlet for that energy, daily walks, obedience training, playing fetch and giving your dog treat puzzles and toys can all help.

2. Puppy Playfulness

Younger dogs are more likely to chase their tails. This is because they are still discovering the world around them and have a lot more energy than older dogs. So, if your dog is chasing his tail and he's still a puppy, it may be something he eventually outgrows or does less often as he gets older. On the off chance that your puppy manages to catch his tail in the process, the sharp puppy teeth can deliver quite a sting, which also can inhibit this behaviour as they get older.

3. Fleas

Another reason your dog may be chasing his tail is because of fleas. Fleas are very easy for your dog to get if he's not on a prevention treatment, and they can be very uncomfortable for your dog. Flea infestations and bites can be extremely itchy, and your dog may be chasing his tail in an attempt to actually catch it and bite to relieve some of the itch.

Some signs that your dog's tail chasing is related to fleas are seeing visible fleas on him, seeing black and brown spots in his fur, and seeing bald patches of skin from licking, scratching or biting to relieve the itch. If your dog has fleas, a round of flea treatments may be necessary. If your dog has a skin infection from the infestation, he may also need veterinary care.

4. Attention Seeking

Dogs love attention, and while your dog may be only a part of your world, you are your dog's entire world. This means that you are the person he wants attention from. Dogs are smart and quickly figure out what gets them attention — whether that's positive or negative. If you think that your dog's tail chasing behaviour is cute and you praise them and pet them for it, you can reinforce that behaviour. In the same way, if you interact with your dog by telling them to stop chasing their tail or petting them to get them to stop, it's still reinforcing the behaviour even though the attention is negative on your side.

If you think that your dog's tail chasing behaviour is an attempt to get your attention, you may be able to redirect that behaviour by providing more positive outlets for attention like walks, daily play times and plenty of pets.

5. Medical Conditions

Any time you notice a change in behaviour in your dog, it's a good idea to rule out any underlying medical issues. Your dog may be chasing his tail because it hurts. It's common for dogs to focus on their tails even if the injury or pain is in the back legs or lower back. It may also indicate an issue with anal itching or worms. If your dog is suddenly chasing his tail, seems to be showing other signs of discomfort or is obsessed with chasing his tail, it's a good idea to make an appointment for the vet just to make sure there's not something more serious going on.

6. Anxiety

Much like with boredom, tail chasing is a common symptom of anxiety in dogs. It comes from the excess energy and stress and quickly becomes an obsession. Dogs often have anxiety from being left alone for long periods of time or dealing with new situations, such as a move or the addition of a new pet in the household. Some symptoms of anxiety that you may see in your dog include:

  • Being frightened of loud noises such as fireworks
  • Fear of new experiences, including new walks or meeting strangers
  • Shaking
  • Peeing or pooping inside the house

If you think that your dog's tail chasing is coming from anxiety, your vet and a dog behaviourist are the best places to start to work on that behaviour and help your dog feel more secure.

We've seen that the answer to why do dogs chase their tails isn't as simple as it may first seem. Dogs require plenty of time, attention and care to stay healthy and happy, and you can find more information on how to help your dog live his best life in our dog care archives.

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