Why Do Dogs Chase Their Tails?

Yes, your pet is perfectly aware that its tail is part of its body.

Dogs have tons of strange quirks, from spinning in circles before they poop to kicking up the lawn afterward. But among the weirdest: chasing their own tails around and around.

Why do dogs chase their tails?

It might look like a strange activity to humans, but tail-chasing is a way for dogs to burn off some steam. In most cases, they’re whirling for one of two reasons: They’re bored or they’re stressed, says certified dog behavior consultant Russell Hartstein, the founder of Fun Paw Care.

If a dog doesn’t have anything (or anyone) to play with, it might need to entertain itself—in this case, by playing with its tail. On the other end of the spectrum, the behavior could be a warning sign that your pooch is anxious or stressed. “We call these displacement behaviors, similar to a human twirling their hair or tapping their foot,” says Hartstein. “They seek to do self-soothing behaviors.” Don’t miss these 12 other secrets your dog’s tail is trying to tell you.

One reason tail-chasing can be a go-to for dogs is that they start playing with their tails as playful puppies learning about their bodies. Owners laugh at the activity, so the dog learns it can get attention when it whirls, says Hartstein.

Is it normal behavior for dogs?

It’s normal for dogs to chase their own tails every now and then, but watch out if your pet is doing it every day or it seems to become an obsession. A constantly bored or stressed dog might be feeling neglected, so make sure its basic needs are being met, including exercise and socialization. Here are 30 more things your dog wishes you knew.

A visit to the vet is also a good idea. If the tail-chasing started suddenly, your dog might be reacting to a medical issue, like cognitive dysfunction, epilepsy, or tapeworm, says Hartstein. The sooner you get a medical checkup, the better. “A lot of times, parents think, ‘If I just wait, it will get better on its own,’” Hartstein says. “But [behaviors] get more intense; they get more ingrained.” With some treatment and extra training, you and your pooch will both be happier. Be sure to avoid these other dangerous mistakes every dog owner makes.

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Marissa Laliberte
Marissa Laliberte-Simonian is a London-based associate editor with the global promotions team at WebMD’s Medscape.com and was previously a staff writer for Reader's Digest. Her work has also appeared in Business Insider, Parents magazine, CreakyJoints, and the Baltimore Sun. You can find her on Instagram @marissasimonian.