Tail chasing is a repetitive behavior that is expressed as slow to rapid circling with the dog's attention directed toward the tail or rapid spinning in tight circles with no apparent focus on the tail. Within the same dog, these 2 forms of expression (slow, focused; rapid, unfocused) may be expressed interchangeably. Slow chasing focused on the tail often precedes rapid unfocused spinning bouts. In its most advanced stage, tail chasing is a debilitating and potentially life-threatening behavioral condition.
Classic tail chasing, which is frequently bidirectional, is not caused by organic problems such as a brain tumor, local irritation, or other medical conditions, and neither is it typically an attention-seeking behavior. Many dogs chase their tail when separated from their owners, and when fully engaged in the behavior, the dogs appear dissociated from their environment and resistant to any form of interruption. They are often unresponsive to their owner's commands when in this state, many shun their owner's attention, and some become aggressive when attempts to interrupt them are made. Bull Terriers that are punished for tail chasing will often remove themselves to a location remote from the owner to engage in the behavior. Although tail chasing occurs in a variety of breeds, it is most commonly observed in Bull Terriers and German Shepherd Dogs.1,2
The disorder has previously been attributed to opioid-mediated stereotypy3 or a seizure-related neurologic syndrome phenomenon.4,5 The seizure-related neurologic syndrome hypothesis suggests a putative association between tail chasing and episodic aggression, trance-like behavior, hyperactivity, sound sensitivity, and fear responses and phobias. It has also been hypothesized that this neurologic syndrome has some features in common with another disease in Bull Terriers, lethal acrodermatitis.6 In addition to having dermatologic problems, dogs with lethal acrodermatitis may have hydrocephalus and characteristic behavioral signs, such as aggression and prolonged staring. Recent studies2,7–9 investigating the clinical signs, development, and response to pharmacological treatment of tail chasing in dogs support a compulsive etiology similar to human obsessive-compulsive disorder. The purpose of the study reported here was to define and evaluate characteristics of tail chasing in Bull Terriers and any association with other physical and behavioral characteristics as a preliminary step toward future investigation of the inheritance of tail chasing in Bull Terriers.
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