Why do dogs chase their tails?

(Q) When my cross-breed puppy first started chasing his tail I found it quite amusing. I thought he did it because he’d realised it was there, but it seems to have got out of hand now. Why does he do this? Is there anything I can do to stop him?

(A) Behaviourist Claire Arrowsmith says: Tail chasing is often mistakenly encouraged by well-meaning owners. However, as you have found out, this habit can become too ingrained and affect the dog’s well-being and welfare. In some cases the activity becomes a compulsive behaviour, and there are some breeds which display this more than others (including Bull Terriers, Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and German Shepherds). Many young dogs will chase their tails when they are excited or frustrated.

You now need to work very hard to encourage calm behaviour instead. Try to interrupt the tail chasing at the very first sign that it is about to begin. This can be with a verbal cue, such as ‘Leave it’, or a loud clap. As soon as your dog pauses you should praise and encourage him to perform another more acceptable activity. This activity should result in lots of praise and attention from you.

Make sure that your dog has lots of ways to use up his energy; plenty of exercise, training to work his brain, and toys (to play with on his own and with you). Changing habits takes time but if you are consistent, you should see an improvement.