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German Shepherd Tail

Why Do German Shepherds Chase Their Tails?

Often times, tail chasing is seen as a funny and even adorable behavior.  However, if you have ever wondered why German Shepherds chase their tails, the reasons may surprise you.  Learn the most common reasons behind this behavior and when you need to seek help to stop this behavior.

Why Do German Shepherds Chase Their Tails?

German Shepherds can chase their tail for various reasons, such as boredom, anxiety, stress, because of your reactions, or OCD.  Contrary to popular belief, tail chasing is not a normal behavior and can be something that you need to get addressed if it gets out of control.

Common Reasons Why German Shepherds Chase Their Tails

Although there are many reasons why a German Shepherd can chase their tail, the most common reasons are listed below:

Tail chasing out of boredom

One of the main reasons why German Shepherds can chase their tail is because of boredom.  Boredom can cause many undesirable behaviors such as destructive behavior, excess barking or whining, and excess energy which can lead to things like digging up your yard.

German Shepherds, in particular, need adequate mental and physical exercise.  Thus, if they aren’t getting these things, they will quickly become bored and find other ways of entertaining themselves.  One of these ways can be tail chasing.

If your dog is bored and there is nothing else for them to stick their nose into, their tail will start looking like a very attractive object to play with.

My German Shepherd used to chase her tail, and I noticed the behavior usually occurred on my busier days when I had less time for play and long walks.

Although there will inevitably be sometimes where life gets in the way, try and establish a regular daily routine of mental and physical activities with your dog.  This way your dog knows what to look forward to and is less likely to get bored.

Your reaction (for attention)

Another big reason why German Shepherds continue to chase their tail is because they have learned it gets a reaction and attention from you. 

Dogs are very observant of our reactions and any attention is good attention when they want you to pay attention to them.  This is why you have to be careful how you discipline a German Shepherd as well.

Woman Petting German Shepherd

If your pup chases their tail, and you start laughing, praising, or making a big fuss about it, they will quickly learn that chasing their tail leads to people paying attention to them. 

Even if you don’t react in a huge way, your dog can tell if you pay more attention to them when they are chasing their tail than when they are laying in the corner.

Obsessive compulsive disorder

Although many people believe that tail chasing is just something dogs do, this couldn’t be farther from the truth.  Tail chasing is actually NOT a normal behavior!  Tail chasing to a certain level can actually be a sign of a great problem.

Just like humans can have obsessive-compulsive behavior so can dogs.  When my dog’s vet found out my German Shepherd was chasing her tail, she asked many follow-up questions to determine how big of a problem it potentially was.

Smart dog breeds like German Shepherds develop OCD behavior more prevalently so if you notice behavior like tail-chasing on a regular basis, discuss this with your vet.  My GSD is on medicine to help manage her OCD, so it is definitely treatable.

Anxiety or stress

Anxiety and stress causes some odd behaviors in dogs just like is can for humans.  In a situation where you dog is experiencing anxiety or stress, they will feel uncomfortable and will looking for ways to sooth themselves or distract themselves.

When your dog chases their tail because of anxiety or stress, it is because the behavior is soothing to them and helps them to focus less on whatever is triggering their discomfort. 

Ways to Combat Tail Chasing

Although some GSD’s will need professional help or medication to curb their tail-chasing behavior this isn’t usually the case.  Often times you can reduce or even completely stop this behavior by following some guidelines.

Here are some tips:

Don’t give your dog attention

One of the main things is to not give your dog attention either positively or negatively for tail chasing.  If your dog is seeking attention with this behavior and you give them attention, they will learn to chase their tail more to get you to pay attention to them. 

To prevent this from happening, ignore your dog when they chase their tail, and only give them attention when they have completely stopped or are doing something desirable like sitting or lying down calmly. 

Give your dog plenty of physical exercise

Boredom is a big reason many dogs chase their tails and German Shepherds in particular are high energy dogs so they need enough exercise on a daily basis to keep from getting bored. 

It is best to establish a routine of physical activity each day that way your dog learns when to expect their fun time.

 If possible, try and schedule in some sort of activity before you get busy every day that way when you are busy your dog is less likely to get bored because they already had their exercise.

Provide mental stimulation

Mental stimulation is just as important as physical exercise for smart dogs like German Shepherds.  Puzzle toys are a great option to help keep your dog both entertained and intellectually challenged.

Redirect them from the unwanted behavior

Lastly, redirection is a great way to try and get your dog to stop an unwanted behavior like tail chasing.  If your dog is exhibiting the behavior, try and pull out a high-value tough toy for them to play with, or give them a new command to learn for some yummy treats

Often times, if your pup doesn’t have OCD they will quickly stop the chasing to participate in another fun activity and are less likely to return to chasing their tail.

How To Know If Your German Shepherd Has A Tail Chasing Problem

German Shepherd tail chasing may not always arise to the level where it is a problem that needs addressing. 

Here are some things to look out for to help you tell if the tail chasing is just an occasional innocent game or the sign of a bigger underlying issue:

  • The frequency of the behavior: if it only happens once a year it is probably not a big deal, whereas if it happens multiple times each month it could be an issue.
  • The age of your GSD: Sometimes puppies chase their tails as a game or out of curiosity.  However, when an older dog is still chasing their tail regularly it is more of a concern.
  • When does the tail chasing occur: Does the tail chasing occur because your dog is bored, or when your dog seems nervous and anxious?  Boredom can be more easily addressed.
  • Can you easily get your dog to stop chasing their tail: If the answer is yes, this may be an easier habit to break, whereas if you have a hard time redirecting your dog’s attention from their tail onto something else, they could be experiencing obsessive behavior.
  • Does your dog exhibit other obsessive behaviors: If your dog exhibits other behaviors that could be considered obsessive such as constant licking, chewing, or incessant barking it is more likely that the tail chasing is an extension of a larger issue that you should address with your vet.

Final Thoughts

There are many reasons why a German Shepherd could be chasing their tail.  Although initially tail chasing can seem cute, it is definitely something you need to monitor.

Sometimes tail chasing can be just an innocent occasional behavior that is nothing to worry about, but if you notice your dog’s tail chasing occurring frequently and becoming obsessive, schedule an appointment with your vet to make sure there isn’t anything to be concerned about.

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