While chasing a tail appears to be a pointless activity that takes your dog nowhere, biting it can actually lead him somewhere: into trouble! Indeed, the constant gnawing may lead to bleeding and even infection. Stopping your dog from engaging in this activity is important to prevent further damage.
Watch your dog carefully and assess in what context the tail-biting behavior is taking place. Does it happen at random times of the day or in particular situations? Also, observe whether your dog targets a particular area. Is he biting the base of the tail, the end of it or random spots? Examine your dog's tail carefully for signs of irritation, swelling, scrapes, pus, parasites and any other abnormalities. By turning into an investigator, you can gain important insight into the behavior.
Report to your veterinarian any evidence or lack of evidence of trouble. Your veterinarian is equipped with professional experience and the best investigative tools to provide a diagnosis. Once the vet determines the underlying cause of the tail-biting behavior, the underlying cause may be addressed and the case may be closed. The days of your dog's tail-biting behavior will be close to over.
Purchase an Elizabethan collar to keep your dog from biting on his tail. While this lamp-shade collar may be frustrating for your dog to wear, it is an effective management tool many vets recommended. This solution, however, may not work for all dogs. Some smart pooches may be able to remove such a collar in half a minute and go back to eating their tails in no time.
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Invest in a bottle of Bitter Yuck spray taste deterrent. Unlike Bitter Apple Spray, which contains alcohol and stings, Bitter Yuck is a water-based product ideal for spraying on wounds. Spray Bitter Yuck over your dog's tail and surrounding areas he likes to chew. This product tastes horrible and should discourage your pooch from chewing on his tail.
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Train your dog to respond to obedience commands. Helpful commands stop your dog from focusing on his tail while offering him an alternate behavior to do. "Sit," "leave it," and "go to your place" are some helpful commands. A reliable sit command, for instance, may prove valuable in this case for the simple fact that your dog cannot bite his tail if he is sitting right on top of it, explains dog trainer Karen Soukiasian. Remember to reward your dog with a treat for responding to a command. As your dog gets good at this, you can replace the treat with a longer-lasting reward such as a safe chew toy or bone.
Withdraw attention to prevent it from fueling the behavior. Attention-seeking dogs may find any form of positive or negative attention rewarding enough to keep the tail-biting behavior alive. If you laugh, scold or make eye contact the moment your dog is chomping on his tail, he may enjoy it to an extent of repeating the behavior over and over to gain his daily dosage of fame. The best approach, in such a case, is to ignore the behavior or even leave the room when your dog engages in it.
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Distract your dog from damaging his tail by adding environmental enrichment. In other words, do anything you can to keep your pooch busy. Stuffing a Kong with cream cheese, peanut butter or frozen gravy is a great way to entertain your dog. If your dog is biting his tail due to boredom, frustration or conflict, improve his lifestyle by providing sufficient exercise, play and interactive toys. A tired dog is ultimately a happy, healthy and good dog.
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.
- To better help your veterinarian, keep a log of exactly when the behavior happens.
- Follow your veterinarian's instructions carefully to stop the tail-biting behavior.
- Always rule out medical causes before assuming a behavioral problem.
- Consult with a dog behavior specialist if you suspect a behavioral issue such as an obsessive disorder or separation anxiety.
- Avoid physically restraining your dog or scolding him for the tail-biting behavior.
- Preventing tail-biting in the case of a behavioral problem may cause your dog to find another replacement behavior to soothe himself.
- Avoid crating your dog too long or leaving him alone for extended periods of time.
- Don't tether your dog. Some dogs have strangled themselves trying to bite their tails.
- Failure to seek professional help may lead to substantial damage to the tail that in severe cases may involve amputation.
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.