Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

The image of a dog chasing their tail is one that’s been depicted time and time again, but have you ever stopped to wonder why they do it? Find out why dogs chase their tails with our guide.
dog chasing tail
dog chasing tail
dog chasing tail

If you’re a dog owner, you’ve probably witnessed your pup chasing their tail on occasion. Sometimes it may be just the odd, quick chase and other times your dog may resemble a tornado, whirling around and around in hot pursuit of their tail! If it’s only occasional and doesn’t seem to be causing an injury, it’s probably harmless behaviour. However, if the tail chasing appears to be obsessive then there could be an underlying health or behavioural issue.

For those that are wondering why dogs chase their tails, we’ve put together this guide to tell you the most common reasons and when to seek advice from your vet.

Why do dogs chase their tails?

There are numerous reasons why your dog may chase their tail, from playfulness, to boredom or something more serious like an injury. It’s always best to consult a vet first to rule out anything health-wise, but here are six of the most common reasons why they exhibit this behaviour:

dog chasing tail causes

1. Boredom

Sometimes dogs chase their tail because of boredom. This may be because they’re left alone most of the day or aren’t getting enough mental or physical stimulation. Tail chasing offers a way to entertain themselves – at least for a little while – and also allows them to expel some of that built up energy.

Increase their daily activity by adding more regular walks to their routine and bring in some physical and mental games. Most dogs enjoy a good game of fetch and brain puzzles are an excellent way to engage their mind! If the behaviour seems obsessive and repetitive, this might have become a stereotypy. This is a behaviour with no obvious purpose, that can arise due to boredom or anxiety. In these cases, you may need to seek expert advice from a qualified canine behaviourist, particularly if the behaviour does not resolve by increasing enrichment, or if it is causing a tail injury.

2. Puppy playfulness

Much like with human children, puppies love to discover more about their world with their mouths. So, a possible answer to why dogs chase their tails could simply be because they’re a puppy! As they grow, they learn new things about themselves. Also, puppies are incredibly playful so they may just see their tail as a fun toy to chase and are likely to grow out of this behaviour. They should quickly learn that biting their tail is painful, which should limit injuries in puppies as a result of tail chasing.

3. Fleas

Another possible reason behind why dogs chase their tails may be due to fleas. Sometimes their tail can become really itchy as a result of an infestation or flea bite allergy, and they might chase their tail to try and bite it to relieve this. If you think the behaviour may be due to fleas, check their skin for evidence – you may notice small, dark brown to black specks in their coat (flea faeces) and in some cases, there may be bald patches too, as a result of excessive licking or scratching. Find out more about recognising and removing fleas on dogs with our guide.

4. Attention seeking

Your dog’s tail chasing may be a way of gaining attention. If they feel like they’re being ignored, dogs may have worked out which behaviours will get a reaction from you. To your dog, any attention is often better than none, so even if you reprimand them, they may continue with this behaviour. It’s important to ensure you’re setting aside time out of each day to spend time with your dog; our four-legged friends are sociable creatures and enjoy play and interaction!

why do dogs chase their tail

5. Medical conditions

If your dog appears to be obsessively chasing their tail it could be due to an underlying health condition, such as a neurological condition resulting in some types of seizures. It can also be an indicator of orthopaedic or muscular pain. If your dog is chasing their tail a lot, it’s best to rule out any medical issues first, so book an appointment with your vet.

6. Anxiety

Tail chasing can be a symptom of anxiety. Repetitive behaviours such as this can be a source of comfort for dogs and if it’s served as a stress reliever once, they may begin to do it whenever they feel nervous. Some typical causes of anxiety in dogs can include:

  • Separation-anxiety

  • Being frightened of loud noises such as fireworks

  • Fear of new experiences, including new walks or meeting strangers

  • Small living areas (such as a kennel or a crate)

  • Complex social interactions with another pet

  • Lack of opportunities to socialise

  • Previous frightening experiences

  • Age-related anxiety due to disorientation

Dogs that experience these anxieties are more likely to develop coping mechanisms. If you suspect your dog’s tail chasing may be a result of anxiety related compulsion, you should speak to a veterinary professional and contact a qualified canine behaviourist who can advise on how best to help your pup.

Now you know the possible reasons behind why dogs chase their tails! Want to find out more about your dog’s behaviour? Learn why dogs lick things next!