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How to Stop a Dog From Biting His Tail

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.

In order to stop a dog from biting his tail, you will first have to investigate the underlying cause of the behavior so that it can be addressed accordingly. Let's face it: From early puppyhood, tails are an intriguing part of a puppy's anatomy. Puppies seem to be somewhat confused by their tail, which causes them to often chase it and bite it.

As the weeks go by, though, most puppies seem to come to terms with their tail's existence. Sooner or later, the tail becomes a less salient stimulus, and the puppy finds more interest in other forms of play. While tail chasing is an innocent game often associated with early puppyhood, in some cases, tail chasing can become problematic. This is often the case when the tail chasing and tail biting behavior becomes excessive and repetitive and the dog cannot seem to stop.

In some cases, the tail chasing and biting may occur in one specific context (such as in response to stress or frustration), but then it may spread to other contexts until the behavior is reinforced on its own and appears even without evocation or a particular trigger.

Tail chasing in dogs may be indicative of medical, psychological, and environmental causes, and sometimes even learned factors may be at play. Things may get particularly complicated when tail biting in dogs arises from a combination of factors. Here are some potential causes of tail chasing in dogs.

Why Is My Dog Biting His Tail? (And How to Stop It)

In this article, we'll look at:

  1. Medical Causes of Tail Biting
  2. Psychological Causes of Tail Biting
  3. How to Stop a Dog From Biting His Tail
Tails are so fun to play with!

Tails are so fun to play with!

Medical Causes of Tail Biting in Dogs

There are several potential causes of tail biting in dogs. Before assuming that the behavior stems from a psychological issue, it's important to rule out underlying medical problems. Tail biting can often occur secondary to annoying health issues. Here are some medical causes of tail biting in dogs:


Many dogs have allergies that may develop from exposure to certain allergens such as food or things found in the environment. Finding the underlying allergen causing the problem can be a challenge, which is why vets sometimes opt to simply try to manage it with the use of antihistamines.

If food allergies are suspected, a food trial using novel protein sources or hydrolyzed proteins may be suggested. While this food trial is done, it's very important to refrain from feeding the dog any treats or other foods other than the prescription diet. Follow your vet's directions for guidance on this.

Skin Problems

A variety of possible skin problems may cause excessive tail biting in dogs. Possible etiologies include moist dermatitis, stud tail, neurodermatitis, and allergic dermatitis, to just name a few.

In some dogs with long, thin tails, excessive wagging and banging of the tail in enclosed areas (small room, crate) against walls or furniture, may cause injuries to the end of the tail. This may cause licking and biting of the end of the tail.

Seeing the vet is important. The vet may need a skin scrape to help confirm or rule out some of these dermatological causes. Challenging cases may require a referral to a veterinary dermatologist.


Fleas are one of the top causes of itching in many dogs. One of a flea's favorite biting areas is at the base of the tail. Don't just assume your dog doesn't have fleas if you haven't seen any; fleas are very good at concealing themselves amidst all that thick fur. Some dogs are allergic to flea saliva and even the presence of an isolated flea may trigger intense itching and biting at the tail.

Other parasites that may cause itching in the dog's rear end area are tapeworms which release eggs sacs through the dog's bum. These may cause itching that triggers licking and biting targeted towards the dog's rear. The egg sacs look similar to little grains of rice. The drug of choice to remove tapeworms is praziquantel. On top of this, it's important to practice good flea control considering that fleas play a role as intermittent hosts in the development of tapeworms.

Glandular Problems

Dogs have special glands located under their tails right around their bottoms. These glands should ideally empty when dogs pass sturdy stool, but sometimes they fail to empty as they should due in part to chronic loose stool, excess weight, conformation, etc. When these glands become impacted, dogs feel discomfort and this may lead to excessive biting directed towards the base of the tail. Often, there's also scooting.

If your dog is chewing excessively towards the base of the tail, have your dog see your vet or an experienced veterinary technician to have those glands checked out and possibly expressed if needed. Sometimes, these glands may get infected and your dog may need a course of antibiotics.

Other localized problems involving the dog's bum include local irritation, cuts and the presence of foreign items.

Underlying Pain

Hip pain or any pain affecting the dog's hindquarters can be a culprit for tail-biting behaviors in dogs.

Disk disease, such as a luxated or subluxated lumbar disk can be a culprit that leads to tail chasing and tail biting. Other than causing pain, this latter condition may trigger tail biting because of the way the dog perceives the associated neurological deficits.

Pain can be tricky at times to diagnose, and some vets may decide to do a trial of anti-inflammatory drugs to determine whether it has an impact on decreasing the behavior.

Incorrect Tail Docking

If your dog belongs to a breed whose tail is typically docked, consider that sometimes tail chewing in a docked dog may be a sign that the tail docking was done incorrectly.

When a dog's tail is docked, a clamp is placed across the tail at the correct length before the tail is docked. Sometimes though, when the cut happens to go through one of the vertebral bones of the tail, not all of the remaining parts of the vertebrae are removed properly. On top of that, any tissue that was clamped down on should be removed and the tail should be stitched up.

Problems start when the remaining piece of bone or the skin edges aren't properly trimmed. When this happens, the affected dog may develop annoying sensations, according to veterinarian Dr. Ralston. This type of sensation may be compared to the phantom pain experienced by human amputees and may cause excessive itching, licking and biting of the tail.

In affected dogs, you will typically notice a bald spot at the end of the tail where the skin wasn't trimmed correctly. Treatment may involve the use of anti-anxiety medications or surgical intervention to fix the problem which consists of removing the distal portion of the tail and repairing the skin as necessary.

In my experience, pain-related discomfort is an often overlooked cause of behavior problems such as tail chasing. Since our patients cannot talk to us and we do not always have the diagnostic capability to identify the presence of pain or altered sensation, it is imperative that we not dismiss these possibilities too quickly.

— Valarie V. Tynes, veterinary behaviorist

Providing dogs with an enriching environment can help prevent psychological forms of tail-biting.

Providing dogs with an enriching environment can help prevent psychological forms of tail-biting.

Psychological Causes of Tail Biting in Dogs

In some cases, psychological causes may be triggering the tail-biting behavior in dogs. It's important to carefully evaluate the dynamics taking place. Psychological causes are often a diagnosis of exclusion, meaning that it's assumed only after a vet has ruled out a great extent of medical disorders.

Sometimes, a dog may start tail biting because of an underlying medical condition, but even once that medical cause is addressed, the tail-biting behavior persists because it has a strong conditioning history. Here are some psychological causes of tail biting in dogs:

Attention Seeking

Many dogs who crave attention may learn to engage in tail biting because they are quick to notice that the behavior brings the owner's attention. A dog who is socially deprived may find any form of attention from their owners reinforcing, even the type that one would consider of the negative type.

For instance, if a young, energetic dog is left home alone for a good portion of the day, when the owner returns home, most likely the homecoming is the dog's biggest perk of the day. Yet, if the owner ignores the dog and just plops in front of the TV, the dog may feel frustrated because he has lots of energy and wants to play or maybe wants to go on a walk.

So, the dog may try to figure out ways to get any type of attention. He may bark, yawn, scratch himself, and then he may just start chasing his tail and engage in tail biting.

Bingo! Whether the owner laughs, makes a remark or scolds the dog, the dog has attained what he wanted. Interaction! The owner looked at him, talked to him, etc, and that made the dog's day. With this discovery, do you think the tail-chasing behavior will increase or decrease? It will increase because it was reinforced with attention and it also likely provided some self-reinforcement (dispersal of energy, frustration release).

Obsessive-Compulsive Disorders

A compulsive obsessive disorder encompasses ritualistic, stereotyped behaviors such as fly biting, flank sucking, and tail chasing and tail biting.

Tail chasing as a compulsive behavior in dogs was first reported in Scottish Terriers with a history of being exposed to an environmentally restricted start in life. (Thompson et al 1956). These dogs were housed in isolation cages for 1 to 10 months and exhibited behaviors such as staring at the tail, tail chasing and growling.

Possible underlying causes of compulsive obsessive disorders in dogs include living in impoverished conditions and exposure to conflict, frustration, and anxiety-evoking stimuli or situations.

According to veterinary behaviorist Karen Overall, compulsive behaviors in dogs appear to correlate with the onset of social maturity which takes place anywhere between 18 and 24 months of age. During this critical time, neurochemistry begins to change, causing something to go awry. Left untreated, such dogs have a tendency to worsen.

Other Possibilities

Boredom, separation anxiety, inability to cope with frustration, excess energy, lack of stimulation, and lack of environmental enrichment are all possible conditions that may trigger tail biting, and in some cases, also facilitate the onset of obsessive-compulsive disorders.

Sometimes, dog owners (inadvertently or purposely) encourage the behavior for entertainment purposes, which only exacerbates the behavior and makes it more difficult to eradicate.

Allowing the dog to repeatedly bite his tail is counterproductive.

Allowing the dog to repeatedly bite his tail is counterproductive.

How to Stop a Dog From Biting His Tail

Allowing the dog to repeatedly bite his tail is counterproductive. The more the dog is allowed to chew, the more damage the tail area sustains. This increases the chances of an infection which will only aggravate things.

To stop a dog from biting his tail, it is important to treat the underlying medical condition so as to go to the root of the problem if it's occurring secondary to a health issue. For instance, if fleas are a trigger, see your vet for products that are safe to use. If there's a skin condition, your vet may prescribe products to help the skin heal.

Here are some examples of ways to stop tail biting in dogs:

  • Seek veterinary care to rule out a medical condition and treat any underlying problems. There are several more potential medical causes of tail biting in dogs that aren't covered in the list. An example is focal seizures.
  • For persistent cases, examinations are necessary and the vast battery of tests often includes metabolic screenings, complete blood counts, biochemistry profiles, tick titer tests, X-rays, and neurological exams.
  • Consider investing in an Elizabethan collar and use it until the area appears to be healing (no more raw tissue or bleeding and hair is regrowing). Your vet can help you fit one.
  • When you remove the Elizabethan collar after the area appears to be healing, make sure your dog doesn't go back to tail biting.
  • Once medical causes are ruled out, it may help to consult with a veterinary behaviorist for an assessment and guidance. Follow directions carefully.