Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails? 7 Possible Reasons

Littlethings writer Phyllis Maddox by Phyllis Maddox
Phyllis is a retired English teacher and a freelance writer for LittleThings.

Whether or not we have doggy pets, we’ve all seen it: a dog running in frantic circles, desperately trying to get a grip on his tail with his teeth! Does the dog believe this is a strange object totally unrelated to him? Does he think it just showed up to follow him around and annoy him? We shake our heads in wonderment and continue on our way or, if it’s our dog, we do what we can to get it to stop before it gets too dizzy!

Well, maybe it’s time to find out exactly why it is that dogs chase their tails.

I always assumed dogs chased their tails because they were bored and wanted to play. Surprisingly, there are many reasons why dogs chase their tails. It’s important dog owners learn the different causes because some may mean it’s time for a trip to the vet.

Why Do Dogs Even Have Tails?

Why do dogs have tails
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

A good place to start is by figuring out why dogs even have tails in the first place. What is the purpose of that long (or in the case of my Yorkie, short) appendage? According to the Canine Journal, the first and most obvious reason is that the dog’s tail is used to convey his emotions. If you first meet a dog and he is wagging his tail, whew! You don’t need to look for a tree to climb! He’s excited, he’s happy to see you. If his tail is tensed up, it’s time to run because he either thinks you’re dangerous or he just wants you to know the he is. If his tail is between his legs, he’s afraid of you (which is strange, since he’s the one with big teeth!).

What you may not know is that a dog can adjust her tail for balance, to steer when she’s swimming, and to better change direction or balance for walking. A dog’s tail is kind of like how humans need their big toes for balance. If your big toe is out of commission, you can walk, but you lose strength, speed, and balance.

According to Canine Journal, dogs also use their tails to spread their scent, which is a way to communicate. Fluid is secreted from their anal glands to do this, and a dog holding his tail high is doing so to release more scent for other dogs to pick up: “Hey! This is my neighborhood!”

Why Does My Dog Chase His Tail?

There are severals reasons why a dog may be chasing their tail, which we’ll examine in greater detail below.

1. Discovering Their Body

woman playing with dog chasing it's tail
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

Dogs might chase their tails as part of a puppy phase. Just like human babies are constantly discovering different parts of their little bodies, puppies could be doing the very same thing.  Maybe your puppy doesn’t know if that thing he periodically catches sight of back there is something following him around or not, so he has to check it out! Eventually, just like a human baby, he becomes familiar with it and leaves it alone, probably pretty quickly if he catches it and bites himself!

If you don’t want your puppy to make it a bad habit, a good way to nip this behavior in the bud is to not give it attention from the very first. Don’t laugh when he chases his tail, and try to redirect him with a toy. Puppies and even older dogs will take all the attention they can get, and if you laugh at his behavior, he’ll keep it up. Then his habit of running in circles may get to be a real fixation!

2. Old Age

Old dog chasing tail
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

According to VCA Mission Animal Referral And Emergency Center, older dogs may chase their tails due to a decreased awareness of their bodies. When their minds are not as sharp as they once were, dogs might return to the repetitive behaviors of their youth, like tail chasing. If you suspect this to be the cause of your dog chasing their tail, experts suggest seeing your veterinarian.

3. Flea, Tick, Or Parasite Infestation

Dog with fleas chasing tail
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

A flea, tick, or other parasite infestation can cause your dog to chase their tail in order to bite or scratch it. Visit your veterinarian for treatment options if you notice your dog biting frequently at their tail.

4. Anal-Gland Problem

Dog with anal gland problem scooting butt on carpet
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

Dogs may appear to be chasing their tail when they’re actually trying to reach and scratch their butt. Dogs sometimes need their anal glands expressed, which can be done by a veterinarian or on routine grooming. If you notice your dog trying to bite at their butt and scooting their butt on the carpet, talk to your vet or groomer.

5. Neurological Problem

Dog with neurological problem
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

A neurological problem that affects the caudal spine can oftentimes cause a dog to chase their tail in an attempt to bite to ease the problem, VCA Mission Animal Referral And Emergency Center reports. Experts recommend seeing a vet any time your dog suddenly starts to chase or bite his tail, as dogs will chew at a painful area much like people rub an arthritic knee.

6. Boredom

Bored dog
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

Your dog could be chasing her tail out of boredom. If you want to see if that’s the reason, give her something fun to do with you, and see if the behavior stops. It’s amazing what time with her beloved owner, the number one person in her universe, is going to do for your little girl. She needs exercise, and she needs time with you. If she doesn’t have enough of either, she might start up such repetitive and potentially harmful behaviors as chasing or biting her tail.

7. OCD

OCD dog barking at squirrel
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

VCA Mission Animal Referral And Emergency Center says animals can suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) just like people can: “A dog suffering from separation anxiety may chase his tail like a nervous person bites his nails. Another dog may chase his tail when over-excited by the presence of a visitor, or an animal or bird in the yard.” Whatever the reason, OCD becomes the problem when the dog begins to rely on tail chasing or chewing almost as a form of comfort when he becomes anxious. He can even seriously hurt his tail from constant chewing by not allowing it to heal after one chewing session before he begins another one.

When To Take Your Dog To A Vet

Dog visiting vet for chasing tail
LittleThings / Morgan Swofford

If you suspect your dog is chasing their tail for a potentially harmful medical or mental reason you should visit a vet or animal behaviorist. Experts recommend visiting with a professional who can help you and your dog break the traumatic cycle she has gotten into by prescribing medication if necessary, or teaching behavior modification techniques that you can learn and reinforce with your dog. You can help by paying close attention to your dog’s behavior so that you observe and inform the vet what causes are behind the harmful behavior.

If this article has helped you to understand and better care for your best friend, please SHARE with other dog lovers and dog owners. Keep them safe and happy by taking the best care of them!