Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

This behavior may seem alternately adorable and odd to us, but dogs chase their tails for reasons that are very clear to them.

Dogs have tons of strange quirks, from spinning in circles before they poop to digging holes in the lawn and rolling around in the stinkiest stuff they can find. Perhaps the weirdest, though, is making themselves dizzy by chasing their own tails around and around. If you’ve ever scratched your head and wondered, “Why do dogs chase their tails?” we can tell you that it’s not because they’re “dumb” or because they think their tail is a foreign entity out to get them.

We’ve got the answers below, so keep reading to uncover the truth about this bizarre dog behavior. And if you’re curious about this, we’re sure you’ll also be eager to learn why your dog stares at you, why dogs get the zoomies, if dogs watch TV, and what gives dogs anxiety.

The main reasons your dog is chasing its own tail

So, why do dogs chase their tails? There are all sorts of answers to this question, and some of them might surprise you. While tail chasing can be a harmless behavior with no major cause for concern, sometimes it can indicate an underlying issue that requires a vet visit. Below are some common meanings behind your dog chasing its tail.

1. Your dog is blowing off steam

It might look like a strange activity to humans, but tail-chasing is a simple way for dogs to let loose and have a little fun. If a dog doesn’t have anything or anyone to play with, he might need to entertain himself. And that’s where tail-chasing comes in, explains certified dog behavior consultant Russell Hartstein, founder of Fun Paw Care. It’s basically a makeshift solo game. Just keep in mind that a constantly bored or stressed dog might be feeling neglected, so make sure his basic needs are being met, including when it comes to exercise and socialization. These puzzle toys can also provide some diversion when you’re not available to play.

2. Your dog is feeling stressed

On the other end of the spectrum, compulsive tail-chasing behavior could be a warning sign that your pooch is anxious or stressed. “We call these displacement behaviors, similar to a human twirling their hair or tapping their foot,” says Hartstein. “They seek to do self-soothing behaviors.” Find out what’s at the root of your dog’s anxiety and then address that problem. If your dog barks a lot as well, it could be related to this issue.

By the way, this fruitless and frustrating behavior is what led to the saying “like a dog chasing its tail.” If that phrase is used to describe you, it means that you’re working very hard at something…but not accomplishing your goal.

3. Your dog wants your attention

Tail-chasing is actually a go-to behavior for young dogs who are playing and learning about their bodies. And let’s be honest—it’s hard not to giggle when you see this happening, especially in puppies, because it’s funny and adorable. But this type of response can cause your pup to keep doing it. “If your dog begins chasing its tail out of a normal and healthy fascination, and their human reinforces the behavior by giving them attention or even encouraging the behavior, tail-chasing can turn into a regular pattern of seeking attention,” explains dog behaviorist Sasha Armstrong, founder of Canine State of Mind.

Try not to encourage this behavior. Instead, provide a distraction by giving your dog a new toy, going on a walk, or playing chase with another object.

Dog Biting His Tail on the beachZuberka/Getty Images

4. Your dog’s anal glands might be impacted

Dogs have two anal sacs on either side of their anus, located at about the 9 o’clock and 3 o’clock position. These sacs secrete a smelly dark liquid every time your dog poops, but sometimes they can become impacted, or clogged. A relatively common condition, this can cause major discomfort for your pup, and tail-chasing may be his way of trying to get to the problem area.

“Poor muscle tone in obese dogs, generalized skin conditions, poor nutrition, and mineral-dense diets can predispose your pet to anal sac retention, or impaction,” explains veterinarian Matthew M. Capitanio, DVM. “If left untreated, the sacs can become infected and begin to abscess, [causing] severe pain and discoloration of the skin, and even rupture.”

A veterinarian can help by “expressing” the anal glands, which will help your pup find some major relief. Here are more medical reasons why your dog might smell bad.

5. Your dog may have intestinal parasites

Yep, this is another common reason dogs chase their tails. It’s also a reason why dogs chew their tails, too. Other signs that this is the cause of your dog’s tail-chasing behavior are white squirmy “worms” coming out of their anus, a distended belly, scooting, weight loss, lethargy, and diarrhea.

“Infections are generally common in young dogs and can even be fatal in some puppies if left untreated,” notes Dr. Capitanio. “Common types of parasites include tapeworm, roundworms, hookworms, coccidia, and giardia.”

Parasite control in your dog starts with you. Talk with your veterinarian about preventative methods and keep your dog leashed when outside. If you suspect parasites, your vet can diagnose and treat the issue. Believe it or not, you could actually spread some of these diseases to your dog.

6. Your dog may be experiencing neurological pain

A dog’s tail is full of nerves and tendons, which is why they yelp whenever someone accidentally steps on it. According to Dr. Capitanio, dogs might chase their tails when they’re dealing with an injury to their peripheral nerve. “Some dogs chew at painful areas on their body, and tails are no exceptions,” he says. “Previous nerve injuries to the spinal cord can also cause recurring, intermittent sensations of pain in isolated areas.” This is a harder one to diagnose, but your veterinarian can help by looking through your dog’s medical history and performing a physical.

 7. Your dog may have injured his tail

Other types of tail injuries can cause this behavior, too. “Dogs with overactive, excitable tails—also known as ‘happy tail syndrome’—or excessive caudal vertebrae are predisposed to tail injuries, such as damage, abrasions, vertebral fractures, laceration, and limber/flaccid tail,” says Dr. Capitanio. These injuries can sometimes cause pets to focus on the area and also chase their tails. If you suspect your pet has an injured tail, consult your regular veterinarian for evaluation.

When to call the vet about your dog chasing its tail

Nearly all dogs chase their own tails every now and then, but watch out if your pet is doing it every day or if it becomes an obsession. Also, be on the lookout for accompanying behaviors, such as your dog growling at his own tail, chewing or biting around his tail, whimpering, or showing other signs of discomfort and pain. In any of these scenarios, schedule a visit with your vet as soon as possible. The sooner you get your dog checked out, the better. “A lot of times, parents think, ‘If I just wait, it will get better on its own,'” Hartstein says. “But [behaviors] get more intense; they get more ingrained.”

That doesn’t mean they’re impossible to overcome by any means, though. With some extra training or the necessary medical treatment, you and your pooch will be happier in no time. Now that you know why dogs chase their tails, get to the bottom of another mystery and find out what your dog’s facial expressions really mean.

Sources:

  • Russell Hartstein, a certified dog behavior consultant and the founder of Fun Paw Care
  • Sasha Armstrong, a dog behaviorist and the founder of Canine State of Mind
Cozy working evening during pandemicsvetikd/Getty Images

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Wendy Rose Gould
Wendy Rose Gould is a Phoenix-based freelance lifestyle reporter who covers home, health, wellness, and travel-related topics for people and their pets. In addition to having two kitties of her own, Wendy loves all animals and is always game for meeting new floofs. She holds a journalism degree from the Franklin College Pulliam School of Journalism and has a second bachelor's degree in Philosophy. You can follow her on Instagram @wendyrgould.