While Rover entertaining himself by chasing and biting his tail may appear endearing, in some dogs this amusing act can become an obsessive behavior. If you can't make head or tail of your dog's nose-to-tail behavior, understanding possible causes may be helpful.
Tail image by Alexander Kosenkov from Fotolia.com
If your dog has never taken a particular interest in his tail and now he is suddenly spinning in perfect circles for the purpose of biting it, first rule out medical problems: Seek your veterinarian's help to have your pampered pooch checked out for skin allergies or other skin-related problems. Pollen, grasses and chemicals are just a few of the causes of common skin allergies in dogs. Also keep an eye out for possible wounds, swelling, crusts, bleeding, odor or pus in the tail area.
Anal Gland Problems
You may have never been aware of the fact dogs have anal glands until you caught of whiff of a foul smell or your dog started scooting on the carpet. Tail-biting may be added to the list of behaviors suggesting anal gland problems. If your dog is biting the base of his tail and the nearby area, anal glands may be the root of the problem. This is another good reason why a vet visit is important when you notice tail-biting behaviors in dogs.
puppy tail image by Eric Dodd from Fotolia.com
Why did the dog chase his tail? To get to some pesky parasites! As much as this sounds like a riddle, the chances of these critters feasting on your dog are high. Both internal or external parasites may be the troublemakers in this case. Fleas may congregate on the tail, especially near the underside, causing sudden itchy fits. Tapeworms may cause anal itching that makes your dog bite the base of his tail to get relief. Occasionally, other pesky parasites may cause bouts of intense tail-biting in dogs.
In some cases, the issue may be a bit farther from the tail. Some dogs suffering from hip pain or some other skeletal or spinal abnormality may manifest their pain through repeated tail-biting. At times, remaining fibrous tissues after a tail-docking procedure may lead to nerve pain and inflammation. If you suspect chronic pain, an X-ray may prove helpful for diagnostic purposes.
Typical swiss bernese dog, lying down and gazing. image by Saskia Massink from Fotolia.com
Don't be surprised to find the saying "an idle mind is the devil's playground" suits the canine world as well. If you leave Rover at home for most of the day, he may have no way to release pent-up energy due to lack of exercise and mental stimulation. In such a case, a tail may suddenly become an intriguing entertainment piece. Frustration, boredom, stress and anxiety are other emotions that may lead to tail-biting and possibly even flourish into an obsessive disorder.
Positive reinforcement occurs when a consequence increases the frequency of a behavior or maintains its frequency. If your dog is generally drawn by attention, he may appreciate any type of attention either negative or positive. Laughing, making eye contact or scolding your dog when he engages in the biting-tail behavior may fuel the behavior, causing it to increase in frequency.
Puppy playing in the field image by Marzanna Syncerz from Fotolia.com
Puppies perceive the world around them as a big playground full of entertaining stimuli. Your puppy may be drawn to a leaf blown by the wind, your loose shoelaces or the erratic movement of a butterfly. In the same way, your puppy may find his tail amusing and may think of it as a toy. When he catches this elusive appendage, he may even try to nibble on it. Usually, puppies will outgrow this behavior as they learn more about their tails and move on to more intriguing games.
Always check with your veterinarian before changing your pet’s diet, medication, or physical activity routines. This information is not a substitute for a vet’s opinion.
Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.