Spinning and Tail Chasing in Miniature Bull Terriers
Spinning MBT’s Are Not Cute.
One of the things Miniature Bull Terriers and Bull Terriers can do is spin or chase their tail. The current thought is that it’s a genetic, neurological disorder. We have also been told that it is a mechanism used for defense in a dog fight and thus has been intentionally bred into fighting dogs of the past. Most Mini Bull Terriers do this spinning at least a little bit when excited or playing. We call these “fancy moves” at our home and they can be cute in tiny doses. These fancy moves can become a habit or get out of control very quickly and suddenly they are not cute at all. It is an obsession.
If it becomes a habit often exercise can help keep it from becoming an obsession. Correction, combined with a diversion toy can in many cases keep it from becoming a problem. If there is a trigger, such as spinning that happens in a confined space, or clapping of one’s hands, then the elimination of the trigger can be effective.
Problem spinning/tail chasing in Mini Bulls is when it is obsessive in nature. This spinning can be relentless and presents itself as a blurry whorl as the dog circles with seeming madness. They can sit and bark at their tail for hours as well. In extreme cases they will spin as if there is a post in their center rather than spinning in a circle. It can last for a few minutes to hours. At this level it is a hard habit to break if it can be broken at all. It can be so extreme some dogs have to be euthanized. Cutting off or dying the tip of the tail is not a cure because in fact they are not just chasing the tail.
We have been told by an experienced breeder that if a spinner spins in one direction it is neurological. Opposite directions is a bad habit. We do not know if this is true. While in some dogs the smallness of the space is the problem, in others having the run of the house seems to set them off. We have heard stories of a spinner being placed back in a pack environment which has stopped the spinning. Dogs in a strong pack have less anxiety so this would seem to make sense.
Another option that has worked for some is a tight fitting garment called the Thunder Shirt. This swaddles the dog much like infant swaddling to calm the nerves. The Thunder Shirt is relatively new on the market and we hear it is effectiveness. We have used it for minor anxiety, such as with fireworks, with 100% success.
When consulting with other breeders and medical pros the advice that seems to work most effectively is to catch it at an early age, or when it first starts and treat it aggressively with behavior modification and medication as soon as possible. This means putting the dog on medications such as Clomipramine, (a dog med- like Prozac) at the highest dosage for a month or two but then very, very slowly wean the dog off the meds while watching closely for the condition to reoccur. Some Bullterriers will have to be on a lifelong regimen of medication to keep the problem at bay, for others it may not work at all. For someit will resolve with therapy and age.
Behavior modification by keeping the dog close and being relentless about correction at the onset is important. Substituting a distraction for the spinning such as a marrow bone filled with peanut butter and frozen, so that it will take time to lick clean, can work. A tether ball or some other toy they can fixate on as a “new” addiction works for some dogs.
We find that relentless correction over a three day period works for a lot of bad habits. This means putting one’s own tasks aside and just plain sitting and watching for the behavior to correct. A pain in the posterior but if one is serious it is worth trying. The problem with spinning is it is hard to reward the good behavior as there really isn’t any opposite of the spinning. So this means distraction and or correction. When the spinning becomes life threatening, and nothing else has worked, one must look at all the alternatives possibly including negative correction.
In general for bad habits one of the methods we use for correction when rewarding good behavior is not possible is the use of a wiffle ball bat. This is a large diameter, plastic, hollow bat. When something hard (not the dog!) is hit with the bat it makes a big sound and startles the dog. They quickly fear the “bang” and learn to behave when the bat is in the visual plane or the bang of it is heard. Keeping the bat in a 4 x 4 fence post bracket as a holder so that it can be accessed immediately helps to correct the behavior quickly. Correction in dogs HAS to happen at the instant the dog thinks of spinning.
A dog psychologist we know recommends chaining the dog to a short (18”) chain. This seems to calm some bull terriers that spin as well as the short chain that makes the spinning almost impossible. You must take care that the MBT can not get hurt, hung, or be by something they can destroy. Also chained dogs around strangers can be a negaitive as they feel defenseless.
There is little information on this problem, and a fair amount of denial from breeders that it exists but there is a site called http://www.btneuro.org that covers the spinning issue in more detail.
Tufts University School of Veterinary Medicine is doing research on this problem and you can find their contact information at the site above as well as a letter from the Doctor doing the research.
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