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Why some dogs run in circles or chase their tails

Updated on April 18, 2008

The truth behind these behaviors


I will never forget the image of a dog running in circles at a dog park. The dog was running around a small tree continuously and was even ignoring the owner's attempt to call him. My husband and I found the scenario pretty funny but know that I have worked at a veterinarian hospital and I have got to know much more about dog's and their behavior, the scenario has shifted from funny to disturbing.

The dog was basically suffering from a sort of obsessive-compulsive disorder and it must have been of a pretty severe form since the owner was unable to get him to stop. He had to clip his leash on and physically pull him in another direction and only then the dog appeared to wake up from a debilitating trance.

Dogs running in circles go hand in hand with dogs chasing their tails. They are both obsessive behaviors that may be challenging to get rid of. They both stem from some psychological disorder being either boredom, fear, frustration or anxiety. The underlying cause needs treated in order for the manifestation to disappear. Getting rid of this habit may be challenging and may need a dog behaviorist to solve, especially in the most severe cases that have settled and become chronic. I have known of dogs who have had their tail amputated to halt their self inflicting injuries. Below are some tips that may help reduce the behavior and at best eradicate it before becoming chronic.



If the problem just started make sure you do not reinforce it.Reenforcement can stem from your behalf or a family member. It could have happened that one day that your dog ran in a circle and somebody either laughed about it or it attracted attention so the dog has learned that this habit would entertain or bring attention and therefore, has repeated it over and over. It does not matter if the attention was dreived from either looking at him or scolding him or laughing. These all are attention grabber sources that he has learned to look forwards to. Your reaction to his running in circles should therefore be from NOW on, as neutral as possible: no laughing, no scolding no looking, actually if you can, simply leave the room.


Try your best to have your dog out as much as you can and encourage him to play a lot, either running besides you, playing frisbee or just going for long walks in the park. Exercise will tire your dog out, thus, this should decrease his energy levels and tendency to run around in circles.


Anxiety may be the culprit. It has been observed that the obsessive behavior tends to have started following a major stress period such as a move, surgery, being left alone for long periods of time, a new person moving in, or a new baby. Consider investigating if anything may have possibly caused some anxiety. This compulsive obsessive behavior can be alleviated by having the vet prescribe some anti-anxiety medication. I have heard good things about Clomi-calm in anxiety issues. Valium may be another option. Ask your vet about which medication he believes may be helpful, if any.


Try to provide many toys to distract him, try to give your dog safe bones or better Kongs which you can stuff with delicious cheese filling. Hopefully this should keep him distracted from his running around as they are very entertaining and tasty too.


If your dog is running in circles because he is ultimately trying to reach for his tail, spray some bitter apple on the tail to discourage this behavior.


If none of the above tips have seemed to work or your dog has not shown any sign of improvement consult with a good dog behaviorist. He should be able to go to the root of the problem and find possible solutions geared to make your dog feel better.

Running in circles may seem an innocent game but when it starts to be repeated over and over it signals a problem that threatens your dog's well being. Please have your pet seen as early as possible if the running in circles endures regardless of your attempts to stop it. As with any medical condition, prompt treatment may make the difference between a minor issue or a challenging issue hard to eradicate.


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    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      Unless there was nothing bothering her in the tail or anal glands region, I would think this may be a form of play or just a way to get rid of some exuberance. It may also be she does not feel like going back inside and is trying to delay going home. Try to ignore the behavior and ask your puppy to heel using a treat as a lure. Best wishes!

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      Donna 5 years ago

      My 8 month old puppy when on a leash will all of a sudden flip out and start running in circles. I took her outside to do her besiness and when she was done I turn her and myself around to go back inside the house. I said ,'Good girl, all done? And that is when she started running . I quickly pulled the leash up but not too hard and rough but enough for her to get the message for her to stop. Why did she run in circles ?? I walk her once a day for a mile and we play on and off. I just don't understand it :(

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      doglover 7 years ago

      not wat i was looking for... why is my dog panting and licking its paws?