Dear Doctor: Chasing His Tail
Q My puppy has taken to chasing his tail. It was kind of cute at first, but he seems to be doing it more and more. Is this something we should be concerned about, or is it just one of those dog habits nobody understands but that he will grow out of?
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania
Dear Ms. Fowler,
A Be concerned. Going after one’s own tail is not normal dog behavior. It is believed to start in dogs who have a high predatory drive but no natural outlet for their predatory instinct. One day, out of boredom, the dog spies his tail from the corner of his eye and goes to pounce on it. The result is that telltale circular tail chasing motion. It’s perfect, right? The tail moves away just as fast as the dog moves to catch it and therefore never stops being interesting.
The problem is that for some dogs, the behavior becomes so intense that they do manage to get hold of their tails — and bite them, causing bleeding. Other dogs spin themselves into extreme dizziness for hours on end, barely taking the time even to eat or sleep. It signifies that the anxiety that arises from the inability to stake out actual prey has resulted in a dangerously compulsive behavior.
The solution is a major lifestyle change. The dog really has to be able to get out there and be a dog, being let off the leash to run free in the woods and chase down birds and small varmints, for instance, or being taken to lure courses. Sometimes, anti-obsessional drugs are also in order until the problem calms down.
Bull terriers and German shepherds are the breeds most likely to go after their own tail. But no breed is immune from this potential problem.