Violent spinning or tail chasing can signify distress and anxiety in your dog. Spinning, unlike digging, chasing and chewing, is not a natural dog behavior and has no root in the animal’s behavioral evolution. Often, spinning behavior is compulsive; it appears as if the pooch is unable to resist doing it. Training a dog not to act compulsively requires a different approach than traditional obedience training.
Observation and Monitoring
Keep a diary of your dog’s behavior and note trends that may point to a cause for the violent spinning. You may notice that certain stimuli, such as visitors to the house, the presence of other dogs or even just the arrival home of a family member, causes your dog to compulsively spin. By knowing the precursors to the behavior, you can anticipate and act promptly when it occurs.
Distraction and Redirection
Using your understanding of your dog’s behavior from the behavior diary, be ready to interrupt your dog before he begins to spin. Call his name, clap your hands or stomp your feet. Whatever gets his attention is good, provided you don’t startle him. By distracting him, you draw his focus away from the spinning behavior. Once you have his attention, redirect it to a positive outlet, such as a toy or activity, such as play.
Normalizing the Stimuli
Distraction and redirection are useful for stopping your dog when he wants to spin, but desensitization and counter-conditioning are essential in removing that desire. Using your knowledge of the trigger stimuli that cause your dog to spin, set up a situation in which your dog would be likely to react by spinning. For example, have a friend ring the doorbell or get a family member to leave and then return home.
Desensitization and Counter-Conditioning
Repeat these scenarios with as much frequency as is convenient. It’s essential to act as normally and calmly as possible while your dog is exposed to these trigger stimuli. By repeatedly exposing him to the stimuli, you are desensitizing him to them. Over time, the effect of the stimuli will diminish. Many dog owners make the mistake of pandering to their pets when they’re exposed to stimuli. A good example of this is the well-meaning owner who fusses over their pet when fireworks are going off. The dog notices that the owner is behaving unusually and therefore becomes agitated. By behaving normally when a trigger stimulus is present, you slowly counter-condition your dog.
Each time he reacts calmly or indifferently to a stimuli that previously caused him to spin, give the dog a reward. This teaches him that calmness and passiveness have a positive outcome; it's called operant conditioning and is the basis of reward-based training. Once your dog learns that his calm behavior results in a reward or treat, he’ll instinctively repeat the calm behavior.
Simon Foden has been a freelance writer and editor since 1999. He began his writing career after graduating with a Bachelors of Arts degree in music from Salford University. He has contributed to and written for various magazines including "K9 Magazine" and "Pet Friendly Magazine." He has also written for Dogmagazine.net.