Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tail?

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified

Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified

Published Jun. 14, 2023
white golden retriever holding his tail in his mouth on a beach

Pet parents often tell stories about their dog spinning wildly, trying to grab their tail as it whooshes by. But while a dog chasing their tail is entertaining to humans, in many contexts it may be misunderstood.

Why Does a Dog Chase Their Tail?

There are a few situations where tail-chasing does not necessarily indicate an issue. For example, a puppy may become aware of their tail and begin checking it out with their mouth. Their spinning is a short-lived effort to get more information about their tail. A dog might also chase their tail when they’re feeling excited or playful.

But there are other times when tail-chasing could indicate an issue. 

1. You’ve Reinforced the Behavior

The human response to tail-chasing is often attention, which can be reinforcing. Some people encourage the behavior by laughing, giving the dog a treat, or even by showing the dog their tail to prompt the behavior.

This teaches the dog that tail-chasing will result in something they like or want, and so they will do it more. If the attention stops, the dog may become frustrated and engage in the behavior even more, trying to get their pet parent to give them attention or treats.  

2. Your Dog Is Bored

All dogs need adequate amounts of activity to meet their physical, mental, and emotional needs. If these needs aren’t met, dogs can become bored and behave in ways that attempt to help them deal with the boredom. Tail-chasing is one example of this.

To combat boredom, try activities like:

  • Walking your dog every day in a relaxing environment

  • Arranging play dates with other dogs (if they’re social)

  • Providing access to doggy activities such as sniffing new areas, digging, chewing, running, and swimming

  • Playing brain games and doing problem-solving activities, such as food puzzles and positive reinforcement training

Chronic boredom can also lead to anxiety, another factor attributed to tail-chasing. 

3. Your Dog Is Stressed or Anxious

Chronic stress and anxiety are other underlying causes of dogs chasing their tail, especially if tail-chasing helps the dog avoid frightening situations or provides a feeling of relief.

Repetitive behaviors, such as tail-chasing, that are triggered by environmental conditions are known as stereotypic behavior. They happen in predictable patterns or rhythms. For example, a dog held in a kennel without enough enrichment may begin to spin in a tight circle, grab their tail, and continue to spin.

This may happen in homes where dogs are separated from their family, tethered outside continuously, or kept in a dog run without the ability to leave. Providing adequate enrichment can help many dogs.

4. Your Dog Has a Medical Issue

If your dog is all of a sudden chasing their tail for the first time or the behavior is increasing in frequency, there could be a medical condition or physical problem such as:

5. Your Dog Has Canine Compulsive Disorder

Canine compulsive disorder (CCD) looks a lot like stereotypic behavior but happens without a connection to environmental factors. It can be hard to interrupt dogs with this issue when they’re chasing their tail, and they’ll likely go right back to the behavior even after they are given something else to do.

In CCD’s most severe form, the dog is not able to be redirected, and the behavior—in this case, tail-chasing—will interfere with vital activities such as eating and drinking. In addition, some dogs will snap, bite, and chew on their tail until injury occurs, creating the risk for infection. Tail-docking (removal of part or all of the tail) is not a cure for these compulsive behaviors.

Compulsive disorders in dogs are being studied, and there is evidence of a genetic component. It occurs in higher numbers in certain breeds, such as:

For dogs with canine compulsive disorder, medication that helps regulate brain chemistry is typically necessary for any behavior modification or environmental changes to be effective.

When Should You See a Vet About Your Dog’s Tail-Chasing?

Tail-chasing that is difficult to interrupt, accompanied by other symptoms such as intense staring at their tail, panting, drooling, accelerated heart rate, or that results in self-harm should be addressed immediately. If you see any sudden behavior changes in your dog (tail-chasing being just one example), contact your veterinarian. They can assess your pet to identify and/or treat any medical causes.

How To Stop a Dog From Chasing Their Tail

Be Careful About Reinforcement

Reinforcing tail-chasing may lead to your dog relying on it for fun, using it to command attention, or (more problematically) setting off a genetic expression. If you are training “spin” as a trick, it’s important to complete the training by establishing a cue to start and stop. When your dog chases their tail, always assess why they are doing so before assuming it’s funny.

Replace the Behavior

If your dog is chasing their tail because they want attention or are bored, train a replacement behavior. For example, train the dog to retrieve a toy and sit or to sit and lift a paw when they want attention. Once these new behaviors are in place and consistently reinforced, the tail-chasing should reduce.

Make Sure They Have Plenty of Enrichment

For canine boredom, enrichment is the best place to start. Be sure your dog is getting plenty of meaningful attention. Make sure your dog is well-exercised, has the opportunity to socialize if they like it, has access to interactive toys and puzzles, and receives plenty of opportunity to play training games.

Talk to a Professional

If the spinning continues, consider enlisting a professional such as a certified behavior consultant, applied animal behaviorist, veterinarian, or a veterinary behaviorist.

Featured Image: iStock/Zuberka


Burn, Charlotte. (2011). A Vicious Cycle: A Cross-Sectional Study of Canine Tail-Chasing and Human Responses to It, Using a Free Video-Sharing Website. PloS one. 6. e26553. 10.1371/journal.pone.0026553. 


Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified


Erika Lessa, CBST, CDBT, CDBC, CPDT-KA, Fear-Free Certified

Professional Trainer

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