Why some dogs run in circles or chase their tails
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.
TIPS FOR DOGS "RUNNING AROUND"
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.
-CONSULT WITH DOG BEHAVIORIST
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.