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Advice on Treating a Tail Chasing Dog

By: Dr. Debra Primovic

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Our question this week was:

My Lab/Terrier is driving me crazy by chasing his tail!!

We got our puppy from my husband's co-worker. He's part lab, part terrier, part whatever else, but he looks a lot like a lab. He's grown now, almost 2 years old, and he's really helpful (watching my husband pick up blocks of wood and put them in a trash bin, he started doing it) and smart. We both work, so we take him for his walk in the evening. One day, we got home after the wind was blowing really bad, and his house, covered by a tarp, had been picked up and thrown and bent (he was unharmed). So we moved him to another location in the back yard. Since then, and I don't know if this is coincidence, he's started chasing his tail, almost aggressively.

None of our habits have changed, and he does this whenever he is off his leash. In the past, he's never really barked, but he gets to where he's barking and snapping at his tail, and he won't listen to commands. We took him to the vet, and he recommended medication, to calm him down, and said he had a psychological problem. I'd like your opinion on this, please. It's very upsetting for our whole family to watch our loved dog apparently lose his mind!

Amy Knudson - Arizona


Answer

Hi Amy– thanks for your email. I'm sorry to hear about your dog. Tail chasing is a behavioral problem that can be very difficult and frustrating to deal with. It his hard to know what caused it – some people believe some dogs have a genetic predisposition to tail chase – specifically bull terriers and German shepherds. I've found terriers in generally seem to more commonly have this problem.

Some owners with tail chasing dogs can isolate a "reason" but most can not. From what I understand, most adult dogs that start tail chasing is often a result of a stressful event but we will never know. It is possible the storm that moved his dog house could have been enough. Regardless, how do you deal with it.

I should mention that we have a really good article on tail chasing written by Dr. Nicholas Dodman. I think it might be helpful to you. Go to Tail Chasing in Dogs

What is frustrating is there is no one thing that works on all dogs. Successful treatment of this condition is often a combination of things. What I've seen be most effective is to make sure your dog gets LOTS and LOTS of exercise and is not confined for any long periods of time. If he is otherwise healthy, make sure he has the opportunity to run, play and really wear himself out. Retrieving balls or Frisbees can be very good exercise. The nice thing about both of these activities is that you can do them with your dog.

When he is alone, toys and puzzles such as the Kong® that encourage mental stimulation to get the treat out of the ball can be good for dogs.

Another good thing to do is minimize stress. I don't know if there is any ongoing stress involved with his housing – e.g. the tarp bothers him or anything else. You may consider a totally different housing set up incase that was the inciting cause.

Lastly, many dogs will need drug therapy. Drugs like prozac® have been very helpful in some dogs. Other drugs have also worked well.

I hope this is helpful.


Best of luck!


Dr. Debra




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