8 Reasons German Shepherds Chase Their Tails

German Shepherds are a very intelligent breed of dog. The American Kennel Club tells us that they are easily trainable and love to work. They’re famously known for their presence in the military and in law enforcement. Unfortunately, this drive to work can also lead German Shepherds to compulsive behaviors like chasing their own tails. 

German Shepherds chase their own tails when they experience overwhelming, compulsive feelings that can stem from boredom, prey drive, anxiety, medical issues, etc. Dogs chasing their own tails can be cute and funny. However, adult dogs don’t usually chase their tails persistently, and noticing this frequent behavior may be concerning.

Let’s dive into what the root issues of tail-chasing behavior may be for your dog. 

Why Do German Shepherds Chase Their Tails?

A German Shepherd could be chasing their tail for a number of reasons, including but not limited to:

Puppy Behavior

Puppies are learning their bodies and learning how to solicit attention from you. Any puppy will eventually become aware of their tail and realize they come with a built-in toy. While it’s cute to see a puppy do, you don’t want to react in a way that reinforces tail chasing and causes your puppy to do this for attention. 

Admire how cute your pup is and then move on to a more productive task, even if it is simply playing with a more suitable toy. Your puppy should outgrow this habit before adulthood. 

Boredom

A bored dog can easily get itself into trouble by chewing things it shouldn’t, ingesting something it shouldn’t, or displaying compulsive behaviors like barking for hours while alone. In some cases, you may find your dog chasing its tail in order to occupy itself and burn off some energy.

This may sound like a better option than other disruptive behaviors, but it isn’t a healthy habit for your dog. Regular exercise, nose work, and toy rotations can help prevent your dog from feeling bored and acting on that boredom.

Prey Drive

A dog’s prey drive is its natural desire to chase, catch, and potentially kill small or flighty wild animals. Prey drive is usually directed towards animals like squirrels or birds, but a poorly socialized dog can have a strong prey drive towards cats and even other dogs. 

If your German Shepherd is excessively chasing its own tail, it may be acting on its natural prey drive. You may notice other behaviors like reactivity and overstimulation on walks that prompt your dog to chase its tail. 

Stress or Anxiety

Stress or anxiety looks different on different dogs. It may present as excessive barking, pacing, drooling, nervous body language, chasing tails, etc. Your German Shepherd could display any number of these behaviors individually or simultaneously. 

To improve stress or anxiety in your dog, you want to:

  1. Help your dog to exercise so that they’re tired enough to relax
  2. Provide mental enrichment like food puzzles or scent walks that make their mind work
  3. Observe the sounds, experiences, etc. that trigger stress and anxiety for your dog so that you can begin training positive association with those triggers to give your dog some relief from them

Your German Shepherd could potentially need medication for anxiety if these issues seem persistent, and a behavioral specialist or veterinarian would be able to offer guidance. 

Parasites 

A dog may chase its tail if it has an irritation to the tail or rectum. This may present itself as a flea or internal parasite infestation.

If your German Shepherd is frequently chasing its tail, it would be worth the peace of mind to comb the fur on its hind end with a flea comb to rule out flea irritation. You can also take a stool sample to the veterinarian to test for parasites that you may need to medicate for.

Injury

An injury that is uncomfortable or causing pain on or around the tail will hold a dog’s attention. Your German Shepherd could be chasing its tail because of a cut, sprain, or fracture that it is trying to make sense of. Take time to look over your dog’s tail and hind end for any obvious injuries. 

Most minor injuries, like a cut or abrasion, can be treated at home. However, you want to take your dog to the vet if they appear to be in pain or more sensitive than normal to having their tail touched. X-rays could determine if there is an injury causing your German Shepherd to chase their tail.

Neurological

Sometimes, what looks like a dog simply chasing its tail is a neurological issue that is causing your dog to need to spin in circles. Observe your German Shepherd for any behavioral patterns that lead up to them chasing their tail.

Keep a log of your observations, such as how frequently your dog chases their tail and for how long at one time. Report your findings to your veterinarian to see if there is anything neurological happening that you may be missing.

Anal Glands 

On either side of a dog’s rectum are anal glands. Their bodies tend to naturally express their anal glands when going to the bathroom. It isn’t something you typically notice. On occasions when your dog is startled or becomes very frightened, they may accidentally express their anal glands in a vet office or in your house, and it isn’t a pleasant smell or experience.

Sometimes a dog’s anal glands can become impacted and aren’t draining properly. If you notice your dog chasing its tail and displaying discomfort around its rectum, you may need your vet to manually express its anal glands.

German shepherd running

When to Stop German Shepherds from Chasing Their Tails 

During Training

Training sessions are a perfect time to work on redirecting your dog from something like chasing its tail to something productive like learning to stay, heel, or recall its name. If you notice your German Shepherd becoming distracted and chasing its tail, lure its attention back to you with a treat and start training.

Always reward when unwanted behaviors like tail chasing stop. German Shepherds love to learn and work, so this should put your dog in the habit of seeking out working opportunities instead. 

On Walks 

If your dog is chasing its tail while on a walk, you may be noticing this behavior in conjunction with a lot of barking and reactivity towards something like another dog or a squirrel or a bicyclist. A dog’s own reactivity can sometimes cause it to spin or chase its own tail when overwhelmed.

Recognizing the triggers and removing your dog from the situation is of utmost importance to keep everyone in the situation safe. Then, you can begin working on a positive association with your dog and the trigger from a safe distance that doesn’t cause them to get overwhelmed.

Partnering with a behavior specialist or trainer can provide better guidance to achieve results, but consistency will help you create a much more relaxed walking partner out of your German Shepherd.

When they seem bored

If you and your German Shepherd haven’t been up to much for a few days, you may find old habits like chasing its tail resurfacing. Give them some enrichment, whether that be physical or mental. A game of fetch, time with a food puzzle, or a long walk where your dog can take their time sniffing are some great options to stimulate your dog’s mind. 

During play

If you’re actively playing with your dog and they become overstimulated, they may chase their tail as part of the game. Even though it may seem fine under the circumstances, you never want to reinforce tail-chasing behavior while trying to eliminate the behavior from other aspects of life. Consistency will ultimately help your dog the most in these situations, so redirect your German Shepherd to another task or toy.

How to Stop German Shepherds from Chasing Their Tails

Give them a job

German Shepherds have incredibly high demands for mental and physical stimulation. They are at their happiest when given a job to do. Jobs can be simple. Some ideas are:

  • Hunt treats or kibble for dinner. If your dog wants to eat, it’s their job to find their food.
  • Train your dog to clean up their toys and return them to their own toy box. This will seem like a game to your dog but comes in very handy for you.
  • Make your dog wear a small pack to carry their waste bags and treats on walks. The extra sensory input creates a task for your German Shepherd to complete.

Training 

Prioritizing time for training will keep your German Shepherd’s mind sharp and tire them out. Training for commands that help your dog focus their attention and work on impulse control will help keep them from compulsive behaviors. 

Exercise

The saying goes that a tired dog is a well-behaved dog. German Shepherds have tons of energy and therefore need more than just a jog around the backyard. Structured walks, games of fetch, and sports training are all means of exercise that would do your German Shepherd wonders. 

Medication

Sometimes, you do everything in your power to help your dog overcome something but still need professional help. Reach out to a veterinarian to determine if your dog needs medication to help curb compulsive behaviors. Medication could be the missing component that helps your German Shepherd’s mind relax and prevent persistent tail chasing. 

Monitoring Health

Keep an eye on your dog’s coat and skin for any obvious irritations that could be contributing to their desire to chase their tail. Observe your dog to notice if there seem to be any patterns happening around the tail-chasing behavior, and keep track of them to discuss with your vet. 

Underlying health problems could be the real reason your German Shepherd is chasing its tail so persistently, but your vet won’t be able to quickly put together a diagnosis and get to the root cause of the issues if you can’t answer questions that point them in the right direction.

Want To Train Your German Shepherd With Peace Of Mind?

If you haven’t trained your dog properly, then this is the perfect time to start. Whatever bad behavior your shepherd has, whether it’s barking at night or other bad behaviors, using the right training program is the key to having an obedient and happy pup.

The training program I love and highly recommend is Brain Training For Dogs.

With Brain Training For Dogs, you’ll save yourself a ton of time and effort. Instead of banging your head against the wall trying to figure out why your dog won’t listen, you’ll follow a path that has been tried, tested, and most importantly, that’s given proven results. Not to mention the fact, that you’ll be able to fit the course around your schedule, not fit your schedule around a trainer or obedience class.

So instead of worrying about whether they’re going to be well-behaved or not, you’ll only have to worry about how much fun you’ll have with them!

And in most cases, it’s still going to be:

  • Cheaper than hiring a professional.
  • Cheaper than replacing everything they might break.
  • And definitely cheaper than a lawsuit against you, if they decide to bite someone.

Just imagine how great it will feel to finally be able to trust your dog completely and never worry whether they’ll be naughty or not. Instead, you’ll have the peace of mind that you have a well-behaved pup, and the boundaries you set for them will always be there, EVEN IF YOU’RE NOT.

And the best part is it also has a 60-day money-back guarantee! So there’s no reason not to give Brain Training For Dogs a try!

So if you’re tired of your dog’s bad behavior or how they react around other people and pooches, then give it a try! You’ll be amazed by the results!

(You can also check out a full review here to learn exactly what the course has to offer!)

Conclusion

Your German Shepherd is a wonderful dog, but even the best dogs can experience compulsive behaviors that cloud their thoughts and judgments. Persistently chasing their own tail isn’t a healthy habit for your dog.

Be aware of stressors like boredom, prey drive, injury, and more that can cause your German Shepherd to chase their own tail. And remember, there are several ways to manage this behavior and stop your dog’s tail-chasing habits. Putting them into practice will make you and your dog happier and healthier.