Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

By Catherine Lovering

Experts are unsure why dogs chase their tails, but most label it a compulsive behavior that arises out of boredom, anxiety or excitement. For some dogs, biting a wound or itchy spot on the tail could be the origin of the behavior. Changing this habit might be as simple as routine changes that incorporate more exercise, but severe cases might necessitate medication for a limited period of time.

Risk Factors for Tail-Chasing

The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals groups tail chasing with other compulsive activity. The society lists several environmental factors that might cause tail chasing. These include living in confinement, stressful relationships with other dogs in the home, separation from companions, lack of socialization and abusive forms of punishment. Cesar Millan, author of dog psychology books and owner of a dog rehabilitation service, says boredom or excitement can cause repeated tail chasing.

Remedying Tail-Chasing Behavior

Reduction of tail chasing depends on what is causing it in the first place. To rule out a medical problem, such as an itchy spot or infection, take your dog for a vet check. If the tail chasing is a reaction to excitement, Millan recommends you intervene as soon as the behavior starts and offer your dog a chew toy. Over time, he may stop chasing his tail and will go for the toy. If environmental stress is the problem, the ASPCA recommends frequent activity such as daily walks or swims, puzzle toys that reward with food and interaction with guardians through tug-of-war or fetch games. Changing the location of a daily walk to a new area also can help relieve boredom. If compulsive tail chasing does not stop, intervention from an animal behaviorist and vet-prescribed medication may help, especially if the habit has subsisted for a long time.