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Dogs in a spin

Press release issued: 21 April 2015

Does your dog enjoy training? Researchers at the University of Bristol are looking for keen dogs and their owners to take part in a study on dog behaviour.

The two-year study, led by Dr Rachel Casey in the School of Veterinary Sciences and funded by Dogs Trust, aims to understand why spinning or tail chasing behaviour develops and the effect this has on dog welfare.

Many tail chasing and spinning dogs have already taken part in the research study and now the researchers are recruiting dogs that do not chase their tails or spin in circles. These dogs will be a comparison population for the spinning dogs that have already taken part.  

Repeated spinning in circles and tail chasing are types of abnormal repetitive behaviour displayed by dogs. This behaviour can develop due to a range of reasons including:

  • the dog anticipating an exciting event, such as being fed or going for a walk;
  • the dog experiencing frustration, for example in situations when there is limited opportunity to show normal behaviours;
  • the dog experiencing anxiety, when the behaviour may occur as a ‘displacement’ behaviour;
  • spinning can be a successful way of gaining attention, as people will often react by laughing at a dog that is spinning;
  • spinning can also be displayed during play.

Dr Rachel Casey, European Specialist in Veterinary Behavioural Medicine and Senior Lecturer in Companion Animal Behaviour and Welfare, said: “Dogs may spin so frequently that their owners find it distressing or a nuisance, and some dogs may cause damage to their paws or tail.  In other cases circling can be part of positive interactions, for example during play.”

Beth Loftus, Vet School PhD student who is running the study, added: “It is unknown to what extent showing this type of behaviour is a welfare concern for the dogs themselves, so investigating how the occurrence of this behaviour relates to other indicators of welfare is a key part of our project.

“Evidence from other species suggests that the development of these behaviours are influenced by individual differences in behavioural characteristics or personality. In our study we will look at one of these characteristics in both affected and unaffected dogs.  We hope our findings will help us to identify dogs ‘at risk’ of developing these behaviours.”

Participation in the project will involve researchers visiting dogs and their owners to collect information about the dog and to carry out two training tasks, which will measure the dog’s ability to learn a simple task and investigate a personality characteristic.

Members of the public, who own a fit and healthy dog of any breed, age and sex, and who live in Bristol and the surrounding area are invited to take part in the project by emailing or visiting the Bristol Spinning Dog Project Facebook page.

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