Q: My
question is:  We adopted a rescue dog two months ago, we were not given
much information about his past, but he was in a run by himself.  He
was picked by my husband after taking a walk with him, a half hour walk
and Molson (the dog) had adopted Steve (the husband).  Initially we had
problems with anyone coming in and out of the house….he would nip
them, but he has relaxed since then, as long as Steve doesn’t get too
close, he is very possessive.  I have cancer and stay home all day and
he is very protective of my, because he has figured out I belong to
Steve and I’m his best bet for playing during the day while Steve is at
Well here is the question (thought I’d never get to it eh?). 
Molson spins and chases his tail until he either gets it or I finally
get his attention.  When we first got him, his tail was hairless.  He
generally does it when we let out and spins himself off the deck, when
he is waiting for me to throw the ball, I’m unable to walk well or get
out of my chair quickly.  He did it before he came to us, the hair is
almost totally grown in on his tail and we don’t want him to loose it
or hurt himself.
I thought I had seen something about this on your site, but can’t find it. 
I would really appreciate any help you can give us.

A: Tail chasing is usually a sign that the dog is not getting enough exercise. Dogs build up energy that needs to be released, and when it isn’t, they will develop problem behaviors. In this case, the dog is also unbalanced, and poorly socialized. I imagine that Molson (love the name) probably spent a lot of time in his kennel or run at the shelter by himself (see my entry on shelters). Imagine how crazy you’d go if you had to stay in solitary confinement for a long period of time with nothing to do but sleep, and you were only let out to potty. I think Molson probably started chasing his tail as a pup as most puppies do when they first find it. As he got older, he learned that chasing his tail released some of his energy and gave him something to do. Now, he is obsessed with it. It has become his "pacifier." In other words, he is using it to release any pent up energy and to relieve any anxiety he may be feeling.

All of a sudden, along comes your husband, and he gets to go on a nice long walk. First of all, dogs are meant to walk. That is why they have all the energy they do. In the wild, wolves will spend all day traveling their territory hunting and expanding it, which eats up the energy they have. On average, a dog will usually get about 14 hours of sleep every day. Sleep builds energy. When Molson was allowed to walk with your husband, he formed a pack bond with him. Your husband became his saving grace, and his leader. Molson instinctively didn’t want this to end, because he desperately needed a leader. Dogs don’t do well with out clear structure. The walk gave him structure, and freedom. No wonder Molson bonded to your husband. He was probably nipping at other people because he saw them as a threat to his structure and freedom. If he’d been in shelters his whole life, then he could have built an association with people taking him away from his structure and freedom. Active dogs require at LEAST 1 hour of structured exercise every day. This is usually accomplished in the walk. Less active dogs require at least 30 minutes of walk time a day. Be careful with brachyophalactic (short nosed) breeds though, as they overheat easily. The walk eases a dog’s mind, and usually you can see a difference in dogs when the walk is finished.

Dogs are simple. Give them structure, exercise, and love and they will love you forever. Displace any one of these, and the dog will become unstable. If you don’t like him nipping at people, then show him you disagree with it. Block him from doing so. Make him realize that he will have to go through you to get to that person. Use a firm, but calm tone with him when correcting him. NEVER EVER HIT. Hitting in any form can cause fear-aggression, and hand shyness. I’m not saying that you do, I’m just throwing that out there for the readers. Make sure that Molson knows you and your husband are both leaders. Eat before him, don’t let him on furniture unless invited, go in and out doors first, and always disagree with the behaviors you do not like. Simply saying "no" will not work. You must get in front of your dog and block until he surrenders by sitting, lowering his head, laying down, or moving on. Blocking envolves putting your body between the dog and whatever he’s after. Don’t block in an aggresive way. Make sure your energy is calm and your body posture conveys confidence. Do NOT be the first to surrender, or it will all be for nothing.

You may want to contact a behaviorist or reputable trainer in your area to better asses the situation. This way the behaviorist or trainer can observe the body language of the dog and make a more accurate diagnoses of his specific problems. Best of luck! Stay positive!