Everyone has seen it, from funny YouTube videos to Saturday morning cartoons: a dog spinning in circles, chasing that tauntingly wagging tail attached to them.
People even use it as a metaphor for an impossible or endless task.
Dogs use their tails to communicate the same way people use their facial expressions, so why would a dog want to chase their own tail?
Is it the thrill of the hunt? Or are they simply trying to chastise their tail for giving them away during a special game of dogs playing poker?
Most people chalk up this behaviour as one of the weird things dogs do, like eating grass, tilting their heads at an odd noise, and chasing balls.
Why Dogs Chase Their Tails
Most of these behaviours have roots in their ancestry, and tail-chasing is no exception. This behaviour is seen in the offspring of a lot of predators, and some scientists think that it may be to relieve boredom.
This kind of play behaviour is more common in predators both to practice for the hunt, and because they don’t need to be as vigilant as young prey animals.
Tail-chasing is a common behaviour in puppies, usually used as a form of play.
Just as puppies may bite at their siblings, they’ll also bite at their own ears, paws, and tail as part of discovering their own body, relieving boredom, and to practice hunting.
Many times this behaviour ends up being encouraged by us, as we laugh or praise them. Who wouldn’t want to see their puppy spinning emphatically again?
A bored puppy seeking attention may try to repeat behaviours that got reinforced in the past, the same as they may bring you a toy to distract you.
Boredom or Confinement
Oftentimes when this behaviour extends into adulthood, it’s because the dog is bored, has been confined for too long, or is otherwise stricken with excessive energy.
An easy solution is a walk or some play time outside. If weather or space doesn’t allow, occupying a dog’s mind can relieve this and other problematic behaviours. Spend time with a dog teaching it new tricks, or even fill puzzle toys with treats to keep them occupied.
Bored dogs can often be destructive dogs, so the more they are occupied, the better. Dogs have been bred for specific jobs, and many times they still seek a job to do.
Behaviours such as tail-chasing can be taught as on-demand tricks by pairing it with a word.
A good place to start with tricks is the basic commands necessary for a well-behaved dog, such as sit, lay down, and stand, done in combination often called ‘puppy push-ups.’
This will help train your dog for these important commands, and it’s fun for both you and your pup. It will also strengthens your bond and trust.
These are especially good for dogs who are unsure, as it can give them confidence.
Trick combinations will keep your dog’s mind occupied, and should decrease compulsive behaviours.
Certain breeds are more prone to chasing their tails, and other compulsive behaviours.
German Shepherds, Bull Terriers, Australian Cattle Dogs, and Dobermans are all more likely to be tail-chasers, although no one is one hundred percent sure why.
Exercise and mental stimulation are especially important if you have one of these breeds.
Tail-chasing in adult dogs can become a compulsive behaviour, not unlike chewing or licking.
If tail-chasing becomes unable to be controlled by keeping a dog active and busy, a trip to the vet may be necessary. Some dogs require medication for their anxiety, just like humans.
A consultation with a vet may not end in medication, but they may have other recommendations for curbing this behaviour and keeping your dog happy and healthy.
Other Medical Conditions
What appears to be a dog chasing its tail may be a dog trying to get a hold of it to chew or lick due to fleas, a skin condition, or even irritated anal glands.
A dog biting excessively at its tail is definitely a sign for a quick check-up.
When in doubt, it’s always best to consult your vet. They are the experts.
So, Why Does My Dog Chase Their Tail?
If your pup is young, or seems to do it when they’re trying to get your attention, it’s probably just a form of play.
If your dog does it with other restless behaviours like pacing, licking, digging, or whining, it may be time for a walk and some new tricks.
If your dog is uncomfortable, persistent, or biting at their tail, a trip to the vet may be in store.
Your pooch may not always be able to tell you what’s in their head, but we do know one thing: a wagging tail makes a lousy poker face.