Tail Chasing in Bull Terriers Linked to OCD and Autism

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Tail chasing is a common repetitive behavior seen in certain breeds of dogs, especially Bull Terriers. This motor pattern of a dog compulsively spinning in circles to catch its tail can progress to debilitating levels that negatively impact the animal’s health and welfare.

Previous studies have provided some insights into tail chasing in dogs, suggesting potential ties to seizure disorders or obsessive-compulsive disorders found in humans. However, the phenotype and developmental profile of pathological tail chasing in dogs remains poorly characterized.

A study published in the Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association helps fill some of these knowledge gaps by providing a detailed behavioral profile of tail chasing in a large sample of Bull Terriers.

The researchers’ extensive surveys of owners of affected and unaffected dogs uncovered new information about the age of onset, prevalence, associated behaviors, and the detrimental impacts of severe tail chasing.

Their work also reveals some intriguing parallels between this canine condition and human psychiatric disorders like autism and OCD.

Study Overview

The study, conducted by researchers at Tufts University’s Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine, included a total of 333 Bull Terriers. Of these, 145 dogs displayed pathological tail chasing behavior, while the other 188 served as unaffected controls.

The Bull Terrier breed was selected because while any dog may exhibit tail chasing behaviors, it is a more prevalent health concern for Bull Terriers.

The researchers utilized multiple avenues to recruit participating owners, including veterinary clinics, breed clubs, and online forums.

Owners completed extensive surveys detailing the onset, frequency, duration, triggers, and other characteristics of their dog’s tail chasing behavior (if present). The surveys also inquired about the behaviors of both affected and unaffected dogs.

Researchers could then statistically analyze differences between affected and unaffected Bull Terriers across a range of physical and behavioral traits. This cross-sectional observational study provided extensive new data to better define the tail chasing phenotype in this breed.

The surveys enabled owners to share insights on tail chasing that might not be apparent during a typical veterinary visit. By comparing across a large sample of affected and unaffected dogs, the researchers could better identify associations between tail chasing and potential risk factors.

Key Findings

The study revealed several illuminating findings regarding the expression of compulsive tail chasing in Bull Terriers.

The researchers found that affected dogs generally began exhibiting the repetitive spinning and tail biting behaviors around 6 months of age. This indicates a juvenile onset for tail chasing in this breed.

For the majority of affected dogs, the tail chasing occurred with daily frequency and could persist for lengthy bouts ranging from 2 minutes up to over 30 minutes of continuous chasing. This highlights how debilitating the behavior can become in severe cases.

Owners reported a diverse array of potential triggers that elicited or worsened their dog’s tail chasing. These included arousal states like excitement or frustration, restrictive environments or confinement, insufficient exercise or stimulation, and loud noises. The identification of these triggers provides clues to the underlying motivation and context of tail chasing in affected dogs.

One of the most noteworthy findings was the close association between tail chasing and displays of episodic aggression and trance-like staring behaviors. This suggests tail chasing may correlate with or be part of a larger neurological syndrome in some Bull Terriers.

Additionally, male dogs exhibited a small but statistically significant increased risk, around 8% higher, for developing tail chasing compared to females.

The impacts of severe tail chasing on dog welfare were also evident in the study. Affected dogs often sustained physical injuries from colliding with objects while spinning or from tail biting/chewing wounds.

Beyond direct injuries, the relentless spinning and tail biting also disrupted normal functional activities like eating, exercise and play. Furthermore, the repetitive behavior strained social relationships between affected dogs and their owners.

Collectively, these detrimental effects underscore the need for better treatment and prevention methods for pathological tail chasing in Bull Terriers.

Ties to OCD and Autism

The researchers noted some interesting parallels between compulsive tail chasing in Bull Terriers and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and autism spectrum disorder in humans. For instance, the repetitive, ritualistic nature of tail chasing mirrors the compulsive behaviors seen in OCD.

Both OCD and tail chasing tend to have an early adulthood onset. There are also familial patterns and suspected genetic components for tail chasing in dogs, OCD in humans, and autism.

Moreover, tail chasing’s association with aggression and trance-like staring episodes in Bull Terriers resembles some behavioral hallmarks of autism like meltdowns and stimming.

While speculative, these apparent similarities hint that overlapping biological and neurological mechanisms may underpin compulsive disorders in both canine and human patients.

More research is needed, but evaluating tail chasing in dogs could provide useful models to study the pathology of related psychiatric conditions in humans.


This research provides the most comprehensive picture to date of the phenotypic profile and developmental pattern of pathological tail chasing in Bull Terriers. The data help better characterize this detrimental condition in terms of onset age, prevalence, duration, triggers, and other factors.

The findings also reveal the significant negatives impacts of severe tail chasing on canine welfare and relationships with owners.

Additionally, identifying connections between tail chasing and behaviors like aggression and trance-like staring may provide clues into the neurological underpinnings of the condition.

While the retrospective survey methodology has some inherent limitations, the large sample size and extensive owner-provided insights add valuable new knowledge about this poorly understood repetitive behavior.

Going forward, this work highlights the need for improved prevention, treatment, and management strategies to combat pathological tail chasing and its effects in Bull Terriers.

It also emphasizes the importance of future studies to uncover the genetic and biological mechanisms contributing to tail chasing susceptibility in certain breeds.

A better understanding of the roots of this compulsive disorder in dogs may ultimately inform research on related human psychiatric conditions as well.

Bull Terrier Tail Chasing Study Takeaway

Overall, this study provides valuable insights into the expression, impacts, and potential neurological links of pathological tail chasing in Bull Terriers.

The extensive owner surveys enabled researchers to detail the typical age of onset, frequency, duration, triggers, and other behavioral hallmarks of this detrimental repetitive disorder.

The results reveal clear welfare concerns, as severely affected dogs often injure themselves and experience disrupted social relationships and activities.

Intriguing connections to episodic aggression and trance-like behaviors in affected dogs suggest overlaps with human conditions like OCD and autism. While more research is still needed, this work significantly advances our understanding of debilitating tail chasing in dogs.

It provides a framework for improving management of affected animals and highlights the need for targeted therapeutics.

Further elucidation of the biological basis of tail chasing may also inform studies of related human psychiatric disorders.

By raising awareness and knowledge of this challenging condition, we can better support the welfare of Bull Terriers and other vulnerable breeds.

Kevin William

Kevin grew up with a female West Highland White Terrier named Murphy who was always by his side. Kevin currently lives in New York state with his family including a Labrabull (Labrador Retriever Pit Bull) named Lily.

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