Watching a dog chase their tail can be an amusing site for any dog owner. It can also be rather confusing and perhaps even a bit concerning. Especially if they’re an older dog and they have a habit of chasing their tail to excess, making them exhausted. While the behavior may seem unusual for us, it’s not as unusual to dogs, and it’s not unusual to other animals either.
Tail chasing, also called whirling, is actually a common among puppies and dogs. While dogs of all ages do it, in the wild, it is more common among puppies than among adult dogs. It is not a matter of adult dogs in the wild not enjoying themselves, but a matter of the safety wolf cubs and other wild puppies feel when the adults of the group are keeping them safe.
Predator species feel that they can do this because, unlike prey species, they don’t have to worry about being eaten while they are playing. Dogs of all species will play with others pack mates, both old and young, and will resort to chasing their own tail when there are not others to play with around. Some people wonder if it’s because they don’t know that their tail is attached to themselves as they spin in circles.
It isn’t as normal for adult dogs to chase their tails. While it may be a behavior left over from their puppy days where they still maintain that carefree and hyper-activity, it could also be a symptom of an issue that is physical, neurological, behavioral, or a mixture of these.
Physical reasons include fleas, ticks, worms and irritated anal sacs. The dog will chase their tails in an attempt to ‘catch’ the bug or irritation that is harming them. They’re not looking to catch their tail, rather than what is on it. It’s a bit like a human trying to scratch that spot on their back. It ends up being a little pointless because they aren’t actually reaching that spot, but they try none the less.
Neurological reasons includes dog compulsive disorder, which is categorized by excessive tail chasing for no apparent reason. When a dog does this, they will chase their tails, sometimes even chew on themselves. This is seen in about 2% of dogs. It could also be a seizure disorder, manifesting in this behavior, or even a need to balance the dopamine in a dog’s system.
The behavioral reasons are far less concrete, and there are more than a few, aside from the instinctual behavior of puppies. A commonly believed reason is boredom. Dogs that are confined for too long or have restricted behavior are often the ones that are seen chasing their tails.
They may be doing it to entertain themselves or to get attention or affection from their owners. While they were puppies, they were conditioned to hearing their owner react with laughter or with kind tones. Since the behavior gives them the reaction they want, they repeat the action to get the attention they want.
There is also the belief that dogs need to connect their front end to their back end in order to feel connected. The idea is that dogs, and many animals in general, need to center themselves and ‘ground’ stimulation. Stimulation causes the dog to stay ‘in it’s head’, so to speak. While the idea may seem silly to some people, there are times when the dogs behavior may back this up. Including when a dog will actually attack itself and not seem to be aware that they are doing so.
It is also possible that, with the same train of thought, that while the dog does not recognize it’s own tail. When it sees the movement, it does not make the connection and the prey drive kicks in. The dog then chases after it’s own tail in hopes of catching it’s prey. When it bites its tail it finally recognizes it’s tail as it’s own.
While there are many different possible reasons that a dog might be chasing it’s tail, it is a behavior that is far more common in puppies or cubs than it is in adult dogs. If your adult dog is chasing its tail, it might not be an issue, but sometimes it is time for concern, and it may be wise to take the dog to see the Vet. If the issue is purely behavioral and the do is not actually attacking itself, then there is no need for concern, and it’s time to watch the dog enjoy itself.