Petsecure Pet Heath Insurance
| Jan 23, 2015
Whenever our five-year-old male Labrador/shepherd mix gets the chance, he starts chasing his tail. He will keep doing this until he gets a hold of it in his mouth. He does this behaviour usually when we are outdoors and will repeat this behaviour until we get fed up and yell at him to stop. Why does he do this and what can we do to stop his tail-chasing?
Tail chasing is actually normal behaviour among dogs. In fact, some animal behaviourists feel it is an integral part of a dog's play "repertoire". It only becomes a problem when the tail chasing becomes excessive.
There are several reasons why dogs chase their tails, some of them medical. For example, there could be a medical problem involving the central nervous system. Tail chasing can be a form of psychomotor epilepsy, resulting in "subepileptic" behaviour that occurs intermittently from time to time (i.e. it is not a full-blown seizure, but only a partial one, affecting primarily behaviour). This type of problem often responds well to drug therapy.
Tail chasing can also be caused by a medical problem that is localized to the tail region. A lesion causing pain, itching or other irritating sensation of the tail or the hindquarters can result in tail chasing. Diseases due to injury, nerve damage or skin problems are common causes. Impacted anal glands can also lead to tail chasing.
Tail chasing can also be a type of abnormal behaviour i.e. a form of "stereotypic" behaviour or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). OCD results in compulsively repetitive behaviour that is due to extreme boredom and lack of stimulation.
Typically, however, it is a form of "attention-getting behaviour" that is constantly reinforced every time the owner draws attention to it. Even aversive stimulation, such as scolding or punishment, can serve as a positive reinforcer for this type of behaviour since it serves to draw attention to the pet.
How can you tell if tail chasing is a medical or a learned problem? First, have your dog checked by your veterinarian to ensure that there are no medical problems. A dog that cannot be easily distracted from its tail chasing, that chases its tail persistently under various unrelated circumstances and mutilates itself, likely has a medical problem.
On the other hand, a dog that can be easily distracted from tail-chasing, that only chases its tail under certain well-recognized circumstances, and also engages in other types of behaviour (e.g. groin licking) while tail-chasing, is likely to have a behavioural problem.
Treatment of behavioral tail chasing involves a process called "extinction". Put simply, bad behaviour is ignored while good behaviour is rewarded. Where once the owner would draw attention to the unwanted behaviour (yelling is a good example!), the owner must now ignore that behaviour completely. All members of the family must be involved, since noncompliance by even one family member can frustrate all attempts at success.
At first, as less attention is paid to the unwanted behaviour and there is the absence of the expected reward (i.e. attention), the tail chasing may actually increase significantly. Eventually, however, the tail chasing should stop. Concurrently, positive reinforcement should also be provided for alternative acceptable behaviour, such as obeying commands or behaving properly. Paying greater attention to your dog when he is not tail chasing is also a good idea.
If these methods fail, you will need to consult your veterinarian regarding behaviour modification drugs for obsessive-compulsive disorder (e.g. clomipiramine).rnative acceptable behaviour, such as obeying commands or behaving properly. Paying greater attention to your dog when he is not tail chasing is also a good idea.