NCBI ROFL: A scientific analysis of 400 YouTube videos of dogs chasing their tails.

By ncbi rofl | November 11, 2011 7:14 pm

A Vicious Cycle: A Cross-Sectional Study of Canine Tail-Chasing and Human Responses to It, Using a Free Video-Sharing Website
Figure 1. Screenshot of a video of a Golden Retriever chasing its tail on YouTube™.

“Tail-chasing is widely celebrated as normal canine behaviour in cultural references. However, all previous scientific studies of tail-chasing or ‘spinning’ have comprised small clinical populations of dogs with neurological, compulsive or other pathological conditions; most were ultimately euthanased. Thus, there is great disparity between scientific and public information on tail-chasing. I gathered data on the first large (n = 400), non-clinical tail-chasing population, made possible through a vast, free, online video repository, YouTube™. The demographics of this online population are described and discussed. Approximately one third of tail-chasing dogs showed clinical signs, including habitual (daily or ‘all the time’) or perseverative (difficult to distract) performance of the behaviour. These signs were observed across diverse breeds. Clinical signs appeared virtually unrecognised by the video owners and commenting viewers; laughter was recorded in 55% of videos, encouragement in 43%, and the commonest viewer descriptors were that the behaviour was ‘funny’ (46%) or ‘cute’ (42%). Habitual tail-chasers had 6.5+/−2.3 times the odds of being described as ‘Stupid’ than other dogs, and perseverative dogs were 6.8+/−2.1 times more frequently described as ‘Funny’ than distractible ones were. Compared with breed- and age-matched control videos, tail-chasing videos were significantly more often indoors and with a computer/television screen switched on. These findings highlight that tail-chasing is sometimes pathological, but can remain untreated, or even be encouraged, because of an assumption that it is ‘normal’ dog behaviour. The enormous viewing figures that YouTube™ attracts (mean+/−s.e. = 863+/−197 viewings per tail-chasing video) suggest that this perception will be further reinforced, without effective intervention.”

Bonus Table:

Table 2. Human encouragement and responses to tail-chasing in dogs on YouTube™.


Thanks to @InkfishEP for today’s ROFL!

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  • Dub Ularity

    What’s the ratio of clockwise/anti-clockwise?

    • Marina Stern

      And is it different in the northern vs. southern hemisphere?

  • Anonymous

    People, all our problems have been solved. All we need to do is attach magnets to these dogs and we will have unlimited energy for nothing more than the cost of a can of Alpo.

  • James Hoiby

    LMAO! Someone has WAY too much time on their hands!

  • Terry Hillman

    Wow these comments show how hopelessly stupid people are!  It sounds like these canines all have some sort of emotional, cognitive, or genetic abnormalities and all people have to do is comment on the dog videos entertainment capabilities.  The point I got here is that if I have a dog that chases its tail excessively and is unable to be distracted while doing so may point to underlying issues in my own pet and should seek help with them.  It might be fun to watch and laugh at but take the article for what it is and its not saying oh how cute these dogs chase their tail NO the point is that people don’t understand their pets and think a problem is oh so cute when it really should be a concern.

    • Henry Loh II

      Well we can’t all be genius’s like you, so please be gentle with us proles. What you seem to misunderstand is that chasing the tail is a symptom, not the problem itself.  And you also seem to mistake this informal study as a real scientific study, which I seriously doubt.

      • FewTooWithoutBlue

        That makes no sense, Henry. This is obviously an actual study. It’s linked to right in the article. Terry up above also states that the dogs have “some sort of emotional, cognitive, or genetic abnormalities”; i.e. he is claiming the exact opposite of what you’ve said.

  • evodevo

    I find it interesting to look at this behavior from an evolutionary perspective.  Humans play a vital role in the development of canine pedigrees, to the point where they have evolved the traits and behaviors best suited to the roles we have desired to used them for; hounds for hunting, miniatures for show or companionship, and the Bernese Mountain Dog for farm labor, to name a few.  The occurrence of laughter and encouragement, and the general attitudes of people who commented on the videos show that humans are generally supportive, even proud, of this seemingly pointless behavior.  It is plausible that tail chasing and circling individuals may have been favored to have more offspring due to the increased attention and care bestowed on these dogs from their owners, intentionally or otherwise.  If you are among the group who assume that it is a symptom of psychological defect, I submit to you that for a behavior to be so widely spread through dogs as a species, the most parsimonious explanation for its evolution would be explained though direct benefit.  Otherwise, dogs with tail chasing tendencies would be deemed less fit to breed than others and produce less offspring as a result, decreasing the frequency of the genes responsible for this behavior in the population until they were non-existent.  This is more opinion than fact, since the evolution of such puzzling behaviors is commonly debated by many theoretical approaches, though not all are mutually exclusive.  Artificial selection adds another level of complexity to this question because the impact of domestication calls into question the origins of a behavior; could it be a merely a remnant wolf behavior that proliferated by chance from their mutant ancestors? Could it be something dogs evolved independently of man in domesticated environments?  Is it the spawn of “dog + human” communication resulting from the comedic traits humans sought after in a companion?  We have the tools to solve this question through the innovation of molecular biology, clues in the phylogeny of canines, delving into the neurological systems, and now Youtube.  The science of it all is really astounding.


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NCBI ROFL is the brainchild of two Molecular and Cell Biology graduate students at UC Berkeley and features real research articles from the PubMed database (which is housed by the National Center for Biotechnology information, aka NCBI) that they find amusing (ROFL is a commonly-used internet acronym for "rolling on the floor, laughing"). Follow us on twitter: @ncbirofl


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