Compulsive tail chasing, or 'spinning' as it is commonly known
in Bull Terriers, is a canine compulsive disorder that is seen
most often in Bull Terriers, and to a lesser extent, in German
Shepherd Dogs. In Bull Terriers it is definitely considered to
have a hereditary factor. There is a lot of confusing
information circulated about spinning; some people claim it is
not a true neurological disorder but rather a behavior problem
caused by poor training, lack of exercise, or confinement.
To say that the disorder does not exist is is a dangerous
falsehood, however there is some truth that these things can
worsen the behavior. Because this disorder is anxiety-related, a
spinner exposed to circumstances that cause conflict or stress
of some sort will be more likely to manifest symptoms than one
that isn't. Dr. Nicholas Dodman explains in his article "Tail
Chasing in Dogs" (see link below) that "It is quite possible
that a susceptible dog may not chase his tail at all if his
environment is ideal, and that a dog without the genetic
susceptibility may never chase his tail even under the most
extreme environmental provocation."
The severity and age of onset vary, and environmental factors
play a part; the hormonal changes of puberty or heat cycles,
certain types of anesthesia, and the stress of undergoing a
surgical procedure such as neutering have all been implicated as
triggers, as have numerous other things -- pretty much anything
that causes any sort of stress can be a trigger if the potential
is there. The spinning can begin gradually or very suddenly,
and while in some cases there is a clearly identifiable trigger,
in others there may not be. A fairly common scenario is for a
previously 'normal' puppy to suddenly begin spinning between five
to twelve months of age.
Treatment of the condition involves identifying (and
eliminating wherever possible) things that seem to act as
triggers, and embarking on a program of behavior modification
targeted towards reducing the dog's anxiety, redirecting towards
more appropriate behavior using a program that involves positive
training methods, and making sure the dog is getting the
appropriate amount of exercise and mental stimulation -- Dr.
Moon-Fanelli's article (see links below) explains this more thoroughly.
Sometimes medication is needed to help bring the behavior under
control but it is important to realize that the medication is only
an aid and will not work without behavior modification. There is
no 'magic pill' to control spinning.
In some cases, spinning is thought to be caused by partial
complex seizure activity and anticonvulsant drugs may be of
benefit. A veterinary behaviorist or veterinary neurologist would
be best able to help in these situations.
The following are some of the pages on this site that deal
with spinning; please see also the General Info section
of the Other Disorders page for more
articles that, while not exclusively devoted to tail chasing,
include some information on the disorder.
A Few Spinning Facts - that
Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli posted to one of the Bull Terrier Groups
a few years back.
Compulsive Behavior in
Dogs - Article from Dr. Moon-Fanelli's presentation at the
Examples - Bull Terrier
Neurological Disorders group members have contributed photos and
video of their dogs spinning to help provide better
understanding of what this behavior looks like.
Tail-Chasing Resources on the Internet
Canine Compulsive Behavior: An Overview and Phenotypic Description of Tail Chasing in Bull Terriers
- Dr. Alice Moon-Fanelli's article on Tail Chasing from the AKC
National Parent Club 1999 Canine Health Conference.
Circling and Tail Chasing
- Article on the subject at online site for Balgownie Veterinary Hospital in Australia.
Tail Chasing in Dogs -
Petplace.com article on tail chasing by Dr. Nicholas Dodman.
Tail Chasing in Dogs -Article from University of Saskatchewan's Applied Ethology web site.
Also see Dr. Nicholas Dodman's two books on our Recommended
Reading page; both discuss spinning and other compulsive