Q & A: Chasing tails

Q: Why do dogs chase their tails?

A: Tail chasing is a complex behaviour that can have various environmental, physiological, genetic and psychological causes. Some dogs may do it when excited or confined, or they may have been heavily reinforced for the behaviour by human attention. Largely, however, it is a behaviour to be concerned about because it may be symptomatic of a serious problem, not to mention the fact that dogs may seriously harm themselves when engaged in tail chasing.

It can be associated with extremely high levels of frustration, stress or anxiety. It is often labelled as a compulsive disorder, as dogs have little control over the behaviour. It may occur along with other behaviours such as trancing, repetitive behaviours, irrational fear and difficulty learning. There are also some health issues that can be associated with tail chasing such as anal gland problems, seizure activity or brain abnormalities, so a vet visit is the first step.

It is then essential to consult with a qualified positive reinforcement behaviourist for an assessment, diagnosis and treatment plan. Your vet and behaviourist will need to work together, as medication is often indicated as part of the treatment plan. Treatment is often long-term, and in severe cases the behaviour may not be entirely eliminated. Tail chasing is no laughing matter, and should be taken seriously to ensure the wellbeing of your dog.

Katherine Brown, behaviourist

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