A research group, based at the University of Helsinki and the Folkhälsan Research Center and led by Professor Hannes Lohi, has investigated the characteristics and environmental factors associated with compulsive tail chasing in dogs.

Nearly 400 Finnish dogs participated in this study, including Bull Terriers, Miniature Bull Terriers, German Shepherds and Staffordshire Bull Terriers respectively. Blood samples were taken from the dogs participating in the study, and their owners filled out a questionnaire about their dogs’ stereotypic behavior.

One of the most interesting findings of this study is the connection with stereotypic behavior and vitamins and minerals. Dogs that received nutritional supplements with their food chased their tails less. “Our study does not prove an actual causal relationship between vitamins and lessened tail chasing, but interestingly similar preliminary results have been observed in human OCD” says researcher, Katriina Tiira, PhD.

Follow-up studies will aim to prove whether vitamins could be beneficial in the treatment of tail chasing.

Early separation from the mother and the mother’s poor care of the puppy were also found in the study to predispose dogs to tail chasing. Early separation from the mother has been discovered to predispose also other animals to stereotypic behavior, but this is the first time this connection has been made with dogs. The amount of exercise the dogs received or the number of activities they engaged in did not, however, seem to have a connection with tail chasing. This could be comforting news to many owners of dogs with compulsive behaviors, since often the owners themselves or the dogs’ living environment may be blamed for these behaviors. Although frustration and stress are likely to be significant causes of the occurrence of stereotypic behavior in for example zoo animals, they may be of lesser significance when it comes to Finnish dogs that are walked regularly.

Compared to the control dogs, tail chasers suffered more from also other stereotypic behaviors. In addition, tail chasers were more timid and afraid of loud noises.

The next goal of this research project is to discover new gene regions connected to tail chasing. The study is part of a larger DOGPSYCH project, funded by the European Research Council, in which the genetic background of different anxiety disorders, such as timidity, compulsive behavior and sound sensitivity are investigated, as well as their similarities with corresponding human diseases.

For more information on the study, visit: http://phys.org/news/2012-08-canine-tail-resembles-human-obsessive.html#jCp