It’s not uncommon for dogs to chase their tails, and it can be an amusing spectacle to watch. But why do they do it? To answer that question, we have to go back about 100 million years.
The closest modern-day animal to the dog is the wolf – and wolves chase their prey in order to confuse them so they can make a kill.
In the case of a small furry creature like a rabbit, you can be sure that it’s going to run in a straight line away from its predator. It won’t veer off, as a mouse or hamster might do. The wolf would then have to make a big loop to get back in front of the rabbit and cut it off. Chasing prey is more effective than sneaking up on it and pouncing, because sneaking only works if your prey stays still while you approach.
Dogs, like wolves, have inherited an instinct to chase anything that moves. Early dogs used this instinct as they scavenged for food in towns and villages where refuse was thrown in the streets. Any moving object was a potential source of food and might be worth chasing if it looked big enough to make a meal of.
Common reasons why your dog is chasing their own tail
A dog’s tail is fascinating when they’re very young, but as they get older many of them lose interest. They’re simply bored by what once enthralled them
Dogs are playful and the end of the tail is a handy object for games. Pouncing on it and giving it a gentle tug is another way to play with it – each time you tug the dog gets more excited and doesn’t want to let go. That means that every time he does, he gets more enthusiastic about grabbing it again.
Dogs become excited very easily. It doesn’t take much to set your dog off – a walk, the sight of another dog or cat, or even just the sight of you can make it so excited that it will start chasing its tail. Most dogs will calm down after a few minutes when they realize there’s nothing to see, but others will continue for much longer. The best way to deal with this is to ignore it. That means just walking away and walking off the anxiety a bit at a time.
Dogs will react to stress in different ways, but stress has been known to cause dogs and cats to get excited and then simply run away with their tails wagging enthusiastically behind them. Sometimes that excitement is so great that it’s almost like arousal – and the dog can then become more frantic in order to chase its tail some more.
Some dogs actually like the sight of their tails being grabbed and tugged. They can’t resist getting their owner to play this game again and again – so make sure you don’t show disappointment. You never know, it might even become a fun game for you both! Dogs are very sensitive to how they’re being treated and will often be more affectionate if you reward them when they do something well through positive reinforcement training.
Dogs love attention and will become frantic if you ignore them – even if they’re being good. Dogs are very social animals and their desire for attention is more than most humans can resist. A happy dog who’s getting a lot of attention is going to want to keep entertaining their owner by chasing its tail, so make sure you don’t look bored when it does. The happier your dog is, the more likely it’ll be to perform this little trick.
Dogs suffer from boredom just like humans do. Some dogs go around chasing their tails because they’re bored, while others do it because they feel the need to do something to keep themselves occupied. It’s worth showing them that you don’t mind when you come home at the end of a long day and find them still going round and round their own little world.
Loneliness and Separation Anxiety
It’s natural for dogs to feel the need to be with their owner, but it isn’t normal when they often have separation anxiety, so when they’re separated from you for any amount of time, they will often get upset and start chasing their tails. When you leave the house, make sure you spend some time reassuring your dog – giving it lots of attention while you’re there can help calm them down. If your dog is anxious about being alone, you’ll probably need to keep it company for a while – but giving it plenty of time to be on its own will help.
Some dogs will go around chasing their tails if they’re tense with other dogs, or just in general. A nervous dog will start pacing and running round the garden with its tail wagging in an effort to calm down. It’s a common sight in dog parks where dogs that have been left alone together will start chasing each other’s tails. It can be calming for both the nervous and the chasing dog, and this will often make it, so they want to keep on doing it.
Itchiness or pain
Dogs itch all the time and will often scratch themselves until they’re bleeding. That’s why you can often find your dog scratching at its neck or back. It’s normal for them to do that, but it’ll probably make it worse if you ignore the scratching and encourage the behaviour by patting or scratching your dog. It’s the scratching that’s causing the itchiness, so if you stop it, then the scratching will stop too.
To help break this habit, a dog scratch deterrent spray (sometimes called a “hot spot” spray) can be used. These sprays are designed to irritate your dog, so it starts to feel uncomfortable if it starts grooming at its neck or rump area. All you need to do is spray your dog with the product and they will stop messing around with their necks or rump areas.
Dogs with any neurological disorders, such as epilepsy, will often get excited – and in some cases they’ll start chasing their tail. This is partly because they’re experiencing changes in their brain chemistry, but it’s also because they’re excited and happy. The tail chasing might be a symptom of the disease itself, or it could just be how the dog deals with its excitement. It’s hard to know which comes first: the disease or the tail chasing.
Some dogs will chase their tail because they’re ill, but they’re not yet displaying any other symptoms. In some cases, the dog will behave normally, but it will chase its tail for no reason. Other dogs will start to take notice of their tails just as they’re about to fall asleep – and then start chasing them when they wake up. It’s as if the dog is just being playful with itself, and in some cases, it can become a bad habit.