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Tufts Bull Terrier Compulsive Tail Chasing Study

Participants Needed

Like other purebred dogs, Bull Terriers are predisposed to certain diseases and disorders that are specific to or more prevalent in our particular breed. One of these disorders is compulsive tail chasing (commonly known as spinning) which, in the most serious cases, has resulted in euthanasia of the affected dog. Pedigree data collected over the past 10 years by Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli indicate that this disorder has a heritable component in the Bull Terrier breed. We encourage your participation in the on-going research project that is under the direction of Dr. Moon-Fanelli. Dr. Elaine Ostrander of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Institute and Dr. Edward Ginns of the Brudnick Neuropsychiatric Research Institute will be performing the molecular genetic analysis.

The study has recently been expanded to include an additional molecular genetic technique that will increase our success in finding the genetic markers associated with tail chasing in Bull Terriers.

The original study, funded by a grant from the AKC Canine Health Foundation and a matching grant from the Bull Terrier Welfare Foundation, involved gathering blood samples for DNA isolation and behavioral data for either of the following family units:

  • Tail chasing dog, the sire & dam, and littermates
  • Tail chasing dog, the sire & dam, and all four grandparents

This study is on-going and additional families are needed in order to complete the data set so that molecular analysis can begin. Dr. Elaine Ostrander has been the primary collaborator on this project and has isolated and stored the DNA obtained from all dogs that have participated.

The research effort has recently been expanded to include an additional molecular genetic technique and requires blood samples and behavioral data from a minimum of 100 tail chasing Bull Terriers and 100 controls (non-tail chasers). This is an exciting opportunity because complete family units are not required for this technique, making this aspect of the research open to dogs of unknown parentage such as shelter rescues.

Miniature Bull Terriers may also participate and the same criteria apply. With the significantly smaller gene pool of the MBT, it may seem daunting to come up with the 200 dogs needed for the single nucleotide polymorphism (SNP) technique, so family data necessary for microsatellite analysis are preferable. However, given the close relationship between the standards and the minis, it is likely that the genetic basis for the condition is the same in both variations of the breed; this means that if 100% of the Standard data are collected, but only 50% of the Mini data are acquired, the Mini group can still ultimately benefit from their participation.

Finding the gene(s) or genes responsible for spinning is the first step in developing a diagnostic test that will enable breeders to identify carriers and thus avoid matings likely to produce the disorder. There has been a problem in getting the complete family units needed for the microsatellite portion of the project and we implore breeders who have had a spinner born in a litter to please take the time to participate–the study data are kept entirely confidential, and with just a few more submissions, the data analysis can begin. Since all dogs submitted for the microsatellite DNA study are also eligible for the SNP study, each normal family member also helps fill the requirement for the 100 controls (non-spinners) needed for analysis.

Getting Started

If you would like to contribute to the study with one or more dogs, contact Nicole Cottam, Behavior Service Coordinator via email at or by phone at 508-887-4802 so that she can determine which part(s) of the study your dog is eligible to participate in, and provide further instructions. The consent form, sample submission instructions, and Bull Terrier Survey form are all available from Tufts or may be down loaded from The survey form is an important part of participation and no samples will be accepted without a completed survey.

Please do not send samples without first making contact. Different blood collection tubes are required depending on whether your dog will be taking part in one or both study groups!

Have Questions?

For a list of commonly asked questions about the study, as well as more info on spinning and other behavioral disorders affecting Bull Terriers, visit the Bull Terrier Neurological Disorders group’s web resource at If you need help with a spinning Bull Terrier, Dyou can also arrange for a consultation through the Tufts Behavioral Clinic. If you are not local to the Massachusetts area, consultation is also available via the Tufts PetFax remote consultation service. Please visit for more information.