Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

Is tail chasing a problem?

German Shepherd
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Many dogs love to chase their tails. This behavior is very common in dogs but not often understood by humans. You may have seen your dog spin in circles to chase her tail and wonder why she does it. Is tail-chasing normal? The answer is: sometimes. As your dog's guardian, you must learn to recognize what normal behavior looks like with your dog so you can act upon abnormal behaviors when necessary.

Why Dogs Chase Their Tails 

Tail chasing can be completely natural and harmless in some dogs, but signal a serious behavior problem in others. Knowing the difference may come down to why she chases her tail. Here are some reasons dogs chase their tails:

Entertainment:  Puppies and young dogs may chase their tails as a part of normal play. Very young puppies might not even realize at first that their tails are attached! Since dogs are technically predators (genetically speaking) they are hardwired for motion. This is why some dogs chase moving objects and small animals. The tail is just an attached toy to some dogs. Many dogs will start chasing their tails when they get bored

Health Problems: Your dog may not just be chasing her tail for fun. There could be something wrong in that area and she's trying to bite at it. Most often, the issue is related to fleas, anal glands or some other skin problem. If tail chasing is frequent, your vet should do a check-up.

Behavior Problem: Some dogs develop the unhealthy habit of near-constant spinning, tail chasing and nipping at their own tails and other body parts. Dogs can actually suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder, often brought on by prolonged stress and anxiety. Behavior modification and/or medication may be available to help these dogs.

Note that certain dog breeds seem predisposed to tail-chasing, such as Bull Terriers and German Shepherd Dogs. However, this does not mean that those dogs always suffer from OCD. 

When Tail-Chasing Is a Problem

If your dog seems strangely obsessed with chasing her tail and cannot be easily distracted, you may need to intervene. Have a look at the skin on her tail and around her rump. Make sure she is current on flea prevention and that you see no signs of fleas. Even if everything looks normal, you should start with a visit to the vet. If the issue is skin related, there are ways you can help control skin problems. If your vet suspects OCD or another behavior issue, there are a few ways to proceed. Your vet might refer you to an animal behaviorist for help. Your vet or veterinary behaviorist may also prescribe medication. 

It's important not to ignore excessive tail chasing, as it may become worse over time and even lead to other obsessive behaviors.