Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

Jennifer Nelson
·4 min read

Dogs and their antics provide us endless amusement, but nothing is quite as silly as when they spin round and round seemingly chasing their own tail. Is this tail-chasing game, also called whirling, an instinct, an obsession, or something your pup finds fascinating to do?

Dogs Chase Their Tails to Relive Boredom

"Tail chasing can be a way to relieve boredom and expend some excess energy," says Dr. Erin Katribe, a Texas veterinarian and medical director of Best Friends Animal Society, a non-profit animal welfare organization with a nationwide outreach.

Tail chasing is an activity like running around the yard or playing fetch. Experts believe it can simply be a form of play, especially after being confined inside or in a crate. When your pup finally has the freedom to run, play, and explore you might find him engaging in this silly game.

"Tail chasing for boredom or attention-seeking might indicate that the dog needs some additional activity or enrichment in his/her daily life," says Dr. Katribe. Try including more walks, more playtime, and puzzles, toys, or feeders that help occupy and stimulate your pooch's mental and physical health.

Jack Russell Terrier Dog Chasing Own Tail
Jack Russell Terrier Dog Chasing Own Tail

Getty Images

Dogs Chase Their Tails to Seek Attention

If your dog gets a laugh from the family, applause, or a few head pats after his whirling display, it can turn into an attention-seeking behavior. It's like a fun party trick he pulls out when looking for some lovin'. "If it attracts your attention and excitement, this can be positive reinforcement for the dog. He or she will be incentivized to keep repeating the behavior to get the reward," says Dr. Katribe.

What's more, puppies might chase their tails as a way to simply explore their bodies as they learn about themselves and the world around them. A puppy notices his tail and begins turning endlessly to see what it is and try to catch it.

"There is no need for any intervention with this type of behavior – they'll grow out of it with time," says Dr. Katribe.

Does Tail Chasing Indicate a Medical Condition?

Tail chasing can also be an indication of a medical condition or parasites like fleas. Dogs may chase or chew their tails because of itching or pain. Dr. Katribe says if there's visible hair loss or skin damage and you notice your pup gets a hold of his tail and chews or bites on it, this is something that warrants an evaluation by a veterinarian. Don't mistake his cute spinning as funny if it looks like there's an itch driving him crazy, for instance.

If chasing is more than sporadic or there appears to be any self-injury, then explore any medical causes with your veterinarian.

Does Tail Chasing Indicate a Mental Condition?

Finally, if the behavior occurs in response to stress, like being alone for a while or a trip to the vet, or family changes, like a beloved kid moving away to college, then it could be related to a behavioral disorder such as anxiety.

If your dog engages in tail chasing after upsetting events, that's the best indication he's using it as a form of self-soothing. "This is also something that should be discussed with a veterinarian, especially if it's very frequent or is detracting from the dog's normal daily activities," says Dr. Katribe.

Pay attention to any lifestyle changes or situations that might be contributing to anxiety in your dog to see if you can pinpoint a cause, such as adding new household members (people or pets), changes in routine, or a change in their physical environment. This can help you and your vet figure out the trigger for the problem.

What Should Owners Know About Tail Chasing?

Occasional tail-chasing that's not causing injury isn't something owners need to worry about, but it could still be an indication that you need to add more activity or brain games to your dog's routine. "If there's self-trauma involved, then it should definitely be stopped," stresses Dr. Katribe. Owners can try an Elizabethan collar for temporary relief, until they can see a veterinarian.

Otherwise, if you're sure it's silly antics, continue to enjoy your pup's sense of humor and incorporate other games and activities into his playtime to keep him happy, busy, and healthy.