Dogs are a lot of things to a lot of people. They can be friendly, aggressive, loving, annoying, funny, loyal, and so much more. But one thing they are to almost anybody is a constant source of entertainment, and even intrigue.
One of the most confusing (and hilarious) habits of dogs is their obsessive tail chasing. It seems like the definition of a fool’s errand (what do they expect to do with it even if they could catch it?). But is it really such a pointless endeavor? Could there be a purpose to this behavior that we simply don’t know about?
As it turns out, there are a number of very rational theories on dogs’ tail chasing behavior. Some of them are obvious and others not so much. And while tail chasing might seem like some kind of compulsive disorder among dogs, after you read this article, you might find that the practice actually makes a lot of sense, especially given dogs’ evolutionary path to where they are today.
Before we go into detail about why dogs chase their tails, it should be noted that this is totally normal behavior and there’s likely nothing wrong with your pet if you’ve noticed them doing it. There’s a good chance that they just need to be taken on more walks or otherwise given more opportunities for exercise. Worst case scenario is that they may have a medical issue (such as allergies or parasites), but even that’s somewhat common and is usually quite treatable.
Dogs are distinct from other pets in many different ways. For example, they’re typically a lot more sociable with people than most domesticated cats are. Something that’s considered normal dog behavior would in many cases look totally abnormal when done by other animals.
In this article, we’ll explore some of the different reasons and theories as to why dogs chase their own tails. We’ll also talk about some of the different types of dogs that do this, and how you can tell them apart from the others.
Dogs Have a Lot of Energy
Dogs are, quite obviously, very active animals. Thousands of years of evolution have led to an animal that can run and swim for as long or longer than many humans, and positive reinforcement from their environment has incentivized this behavior’s continued development. Dogs can run faster than the average human, and swim better than many other mammals. But they still have a lot of energy to burn, so they need to keep that energy in check. One way to do that—as silly as it may look—is to run in a circle.
Dogs often expend pent-up energy in seemingly random bursts. These episodes actually have a technical term-Frenetic Random Activity Periods (or FRAPs). Also casually referred to as “zoomies,” FRAPs occur when a dog or cat experiences a sudden burst of energy that causes them to run and move around in quick, short bursts of energy. Although commonly observed, FRAPs aren’t yet totally understood in a scientific sense.
One of the most common types of FRAP in dogs is the circular formation, which could either be mistaken for tail chasing, or they may actually be chasing it. So, even when they’re not actually chasing their tails, running in a circle can be a natural response to their high energy level, and it helps them to expend it rather than let it stagnate into stress.
Why Do Dogs Have So Much Energy
Dogs have very efficient bodies. They’re natural hunters, and their bodies have been shaped by thousands of years of evolution to conserve as much energy as possible. Hunters who are out in the wild for long periods of time need to be able to conserve as much energy as they possibly can, so they’ve developed bodies that are very efficient in their energy usage. Dogs’ ancestors have had to run for much of the course of their evolution, not just for hunting but also for things like migration and self defense against predators of their own, and they can now run for miles and miles with barely any sign of exhaustion.
Sometimes excessive energy can also be a sign of anxiety in dogs, however. When this is the case, tail chasing can be a way for dogs to alleviate stress and keep their bodies calm. That said, anxiety tends to be more of a problem for smaller as well as mixed breed dogs, but all dogs can be prone to anxiety of some form.
Energetic behavior is not necessarily a bad thing, but you should always try to find the underlying cause before you try to apply any sort of behavior modification. If your dog is constantly rambunctious, then you may be dealing with a medical condition that requires professional medical attention. In this case, your veterinarian might prescribe medication that can help your dog relax (and perhaps alleviate the excessive tail chasing). If, on the other hand, your dog is simply energetic because he or she is bored or anxious, then you should consider raising their activity level.
Dogs Are Very Curious
Dogs have a very strong instinct to investigate just about anything and everything that evokes even the slightest bit of mental stimulation within them. They’re constantly looking for things to chew on or play with. They can become instantly obsessed with something as simple as their own tail. Whichever object or activity they’re interested in, dogs can get crazily focused on it.
Although your dog’s curiosity may get them in trouble occasionally, it’s actually a net benefit for their species. Curiosity helps them to learn and to grow. It helps them adapt to the world around them. A dog’s natural curiosity and desire to learn drives many of their behaviors, even though they may not be able to communicate this to us.
If your dog is chasing their own tail, it’s probably not just compulsive behavior—they may just be curious about their tail’s shape and movement. If you see them doing it a lot, it might be because they’re bored or frustrated. You can try playing with your dog or giving them something else interesting to do if it really bothers you. In any case, curiosity is a very normal canine behavior that shouldn’t necessarily be discouraged.
What Makes Dogs So Curious?
Before dogs became domesticated, they spent their days hunting small game such as rabbits and squirrels. This was not only physically challenging but mentally taxing as well. A wolf chasing after a rabbit had to be focused in order to catch its prey. Once caught, the wolf would then need to eat it in order to survive.
In the process of catching the rabbit, the wolf would study its behavior and learn how it moved. Once the wolf had learned how the rabbit moved, it could then predict how the rabbit would move in the future. It was a difficult task that required a great deal of focus and concentration on the part of the wolf. Its curiosity about smaller animals (animals that, interestingly, somewhat resemble a dog’s tail) became an evolutionary advantage that echoed throughout future generations of increasingly domesticated wolves and dogs.
Dogs’ curiosity and drive to learn is such a prevalent trait that there are even dogs that are specifically trained for detection by organizations like law enforcement and wildlife management. Thousands of years ago, dogs were used for hunting and tracking by hunters and warriors. In some cases, they were even used for hunting down other animals in order to feed themselves. Even today, there are many cases of dogs being trained for these purposes.
Dogs Are Playful
Dogs love to run in circles. It’s one of the most basic forms of play for them. It may seem like irrational or compulsive behavior, but it’s actually a very healthy form of exercise. When dogs chase their tails or other objects around their environment, a common reason for this is that it provides both physical and mental stimulation. Playing with their tails can even help dogs develop their coordination skills and stay mentally alert.
Tail chasing is one of the most common types of playful behavior among dogs, and it’s an instinctual reaction to the movement of their tails. Many dogs are born with a natural instinct to chase their own tails, but it’s also something that can be learned if they don’t naturally chase it.
If you’re an inexperienced dog owner, you may worry if your dog’s being too rough with their tail, but it’s usually fine. If you just let your dog chase his or her own tail they’ll usually figure out how rough they can or can’t be with it on their own.
Why Are Dogs So Playful?
There are many reasons for dogs to love playing, but probably the most common reason is that it keeps them healthy. When dogs play they’re releasing happy hormones into their bodies. This helps to keep their immune systems healthy and boosts their physical and mental wellbeing and alertness.
Also, playing with their pet parent is one of the best ways for dogs to learn new things. This is a natural part of the social learning process—for puppies especially, but also for your older dog. However, if there are no other creatures around, sometimes the best option for your dog (even your adult dog) is to chase their own tail.
Another possible reason dogs can be so playful is that they might be seeking attention. Chasing their own tail, running in circles, and jumping on their owners are all ways that dogs get the attention they want.
Fleas or Ticks
A possibly concerning reason that your dog is chasing their own tail might be that they have become infested with fleas or ticks. When this is the case, you can often even see the fleas or ticks crawling on your pet, although you may need to look closely in order to identify them.
Fleas and ticks are parasites that feed off of the blood of their hosts. They can cause serious diseases in animals, including both humans and dogs. You can find out more information about these parasites on the Centers for Disease Control website.
What To Do If Your Dog Has Fleas
There are special combs that are available for sale at most pet stores or online that can help remove fleas from your dog’s coat. To use the comb, you will likely have to hold your dog’s tail so you can get at all of it. Then, you can run it over the remainder of your pet’s body. If you do this correctly, you should be able to see fleas on the comb immediately after you’ve run it over them.
If you don’t want to use chemicals to get rid of fleas, it’s important to keep your pets in an environment that’s as free of fleas as possible. Fleas can easily jump from one pet to another, or onto a person.
What To Do If Your Dog Has Ticks
Ticks aren’t quite as common as fleas, but they’re a lot more dangerous. If you notice even one tick on your dog, it’s probably best to take them to the vet as soon as possible. And keep in mind that some ticks can spread serious illnesses and diseases (such as Lyme disease) to humans as well as to other animals.
If you find a tick or ticks on your dog, have it or them removed promptly. Ideally, this means having a professional perform the removal. But if this is impossible, you’ll have to do it on your own. In that case, try to perform the removal with professional supervision via phone or (if possible) video call. You must be very careful to remove the tick or ticks correctly because squeezing a tick’s body while attempting to remove it can greatly increase the risk of disease transmission.
Allergies are very common in dogs, but can affect different dogs in different ways. One common symptom of allergies in dogs is itchy skin. Chewing or chasing their tail can be a sign that they’re affected by this condition. Maybe your dog has an allergy to something they’ve eaten, or to something they’ve been exposed to in the environment.
There are a few things to keep in mind when dealing with allergies in dogs. The first is to keep them from eating things that might be causing them pain. This includes foods that have been known to cause allergic reactions in other animals, such as certain seasonings and dairy products.
You can also try to keep them from being exposed to things in the environment that might be causing them pain or irritation. This includes things like grass, weeds, pollen, dust mites, and mold. If you suspect that your pet is suffering from allergies, you may need to consult with your vet about prescription medication to help alleviate their symptoms.
How To Treat Your Dog’s Allergies
Thoroughly washing the areas where your dog has been exposed to allergens can be a good first step when dealing with allergies. It will help remove any irritants from their fur and skin. You may also use a medicated shampoo or conditioner on them if needed or prescribed by a vet. This will often help keep their skin from itching or flaking off. Use these products with caution and always consult a vet before trying a new or especially strong product on your dog.
If your dog is dealing with a food allergy, you should try to find out what’s causing the problem and either eliminate it or regulate it properly. Food allergies can be hard to diagnose and these especially should be closely monitored with the help of a veterinarian.
If you see your dog chasing their own tail, there can be a number of different explanations for this seemingly strange behavior. It could be a sign that they need to be treated for anxiety, fleas, ticks, or possibly even worse. Or it could just be the normal and healthy playfulness that can be expected from any dog.
As a dog parent, you should check your pet for allergies early on, and you should always be checking them for fleas, ticks, and other parasites (this is unfortunately a constant issue with dogs, no matter what kind or how old they may be). But if it’s just playfulness or curiosity that’s compelling your dog to chase their own tail around, then it’s probably best to just let them have their fun, as long as they aren’t hurting themselves, anyone else, or anything around them.
If you think your dog has too much pent-up energy, consider taking them on more walks, allowing them more space to move around, or giving them toys to chew on or play with. But the bottom line is that dogs are very playful and curious creatures, and sometimes that means they’ll behave in ways that might seem strange to us. Their constant playfulness and curiosity are a big part of why we love them so much!