Dogs, unlike humans, don’t just jump onto a bed when they feel tired. If you’ve ever been keenly observing your dog when lying down, you’ve most likely noticed that he circles the area first. Whether the dog is indoors or outdoors, he will still circle the area twice, thrice, or even more times before lying down to rest. Now the question is, why do dogs walk in circle before lying down?
This bedtime ritual can be traced back to the period when dogs used to live in the wild before they were domesticated by humans. Wild dogs used to circle the area where they intended to bed down in a bid to flatten it and make it more comfortable.
They would flatten down overgrown grasses and weeds before lying down. If the area had small rocks, debris, or stones, dogs would push them away with their paws. During colder winter months, wild dogs would flatten down the snow to create a more comfortable bed. Here are more reasons why dogs spin in circles before lying down:
1: Circling Helps with Comfort
Dogs in the wild didn’t have the luxury of comfy doggie beds, carpets, and pillows. They had to make their own “beds” in the wild by patting down tall grass and removing prickly stickers and underbrush before lying down. They also rooted out hard tree branches and rocks to make their bed more comfortable. Circling around also helped to root out hidden intruders such as insects and snakes. Although domesticated dogs today enjoy comfortable crates and mattresses, they still circle around instinctively.
2: Circling Helps with Survival
Dog behaviorists believe that this bedtime ritual of circling before lying down is inherited. Dog ancestors such as wild wolves performed the same thing, and our domestic dogs have retained this genetic predisposition to date. This evolutionary behavior is typically aimed at self-preservation and survival.
Some wildlife enthusiasts actually believe that wolves sleep with their noses facing the wind so that they can immediately pick up on a threatening scent. Turning around in circles allows the wolf to determine the wind direction so as to sleep in the right position to pick alerts of potential attacks. So, even though our domestic dogs sleep in safe crates in our homes, they have retained this evolutionary protective trait. Like their ancestors, your pooch will turn around a few times before lying down.
3: Circling Helps Dogs Walking in Packs
Another evolutionary explanation for this circling behavior is that wild canids, such as wolves, coyotes, and foxes, often travel in packs of numerous family members. The entire group offers protection to each family member and will constantly look out for stragglers. Turning around in circles helps group leaders survey the pack to identify members who may have fallen behind.
Circling 360 degrees also provides an opportunity for park leaders to take one last look for potential danger before bedtime. Ultimately, this bedtime rotation is a form of self-preservation and protection for dogs.
4: Circling Helps with Temperature Control
Dogs in the wild didn’t have much control over weather conditions and had to endure extreme changes in temperature. They couldn’t jump into a dog swimming pool when it’s extremely hot or grab a blanket or coat when it’s cold. To survive extreme temperatures, wild dogs had to den their sleeping quarters. During hot temperatures, outdoor dogs used to scratch at the ground to remove the topsoil that retained the sun’s heat. Removing the topsoil helped to expose the cooler soil underneath, allowing them to find a more comfortable temperature for naps.
Wild canines in colder climates also turned in circles to wind themselves into tight balls to help them conserve body heat. Typically, the tighter the tuck, the warmer they felt. In addition, other pack members could gather in a tight circle to share body heat. From this explanation, you can see that the bedtime circling ritual has a biological basis as well.
How Circling Helps Today’s Domesticated Dogs
There are several good reasons for wild dogs to circle before lying down, but how can circling help our contemporary, domestic dogs who live within the comfort of our homes and yards?
Comfort is always a top priority when taking naps, so one explanation is that your dog moves in circles before lying down just to make sure the bed is exactly the way they want it. The rounding ritual typically serves as a safety precaution. Although pet dogs are not exposed to dangers that existed in the wild, moving in circles can help them avoid lying on hard objects around their bed, such as dog toys, feeders, etc.
What if the circling is excessive?
Observing your dog turn around before lying down is often amusing, but it could also be a sign that something is wrong. Dogs experiencing pain from scabs, warts, or other health complications will circle excessively as they struggle to find a comfortable position to sleep. They may also crouch and rise several times before finally reclining.
If you notice your dog having difficulty settling down even after circling several times, consult your veterinarian. More often, orthopedic disorders such as arthritis or neurological disorders such as spinal cord or back problems can make the routine bedtime ritual a painful experience for your pooch. Let you vet examine your pet for health issues and recommend the right medication or therapy to make bedtime comfortable again.
The instinctive behavior of circling before lying down remains with our domesticated dogs as well as wild dogs to date. It might not make much sense when you watch your beloved pooch circle the carpet before taking a nap. However, by thinking about the way you fluff your pillows before getting into bed, this sort of bedtime ritual seems quite ordinary. But, if the circling becomes excessive, seek professional advice from a qualified vet.
Dr. Belinda Hawks earned her Doctor of Veterinary Medicine from Colorado State University in 2006 and has been practicing veterinary medicine since then. Dr. Belinda currently works as a passionate rancher and mixed animal veterinarian in a rural town in South Carolina. When not practicing veterinary medicine or writing, she spends her free time with her lovely husband and three kids (2 boys and a lovely girl) in South Carolina.