This Is Why Dogs Walk in Circles Before Lying Down, According to Vets

Written by Sharon Parry
Updated: October 15, 2022
© Lily Chernysheva/
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It’s an adorable thing that many pooches do but exactly why do dogs circle before they lay down? Why can’t they just flop in one position when they are tired? Many dogs obviously feel that they must turn in multiple circles before finally settling on a preferred position. As a dog owner, you may be wondering if this is normal behavior or whether you should be concerned. It can look quite compulsive at times!

Here we present the professional opinion of dog behavior experts and vets and look deeper into this instinctual behavior that has been passed down from the wild dogs of the past.

Why Do Dogs Circle Before They Lay Down?

There is a combination of reasons why dogs feel the need to turn in many circles before they eventually rest. We have to remember that dogs have not always been domesticated. They used to live in the wild and would have adopted behaviors that a wild animal needs to survive in what can be quite harsh environments. Many of these are hard-wired into their brains and they still retain them even though they live comfortable lives in human homes.

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Where the Behavior Came From

This behavior is also seen in wild dogs like wolves and coyotes so it has probably been passed down through the generations. So, why would ancient dogs have done this? It is all to do with survival. Animals only adopt a behavior if it helps them to survive and therefore pass on their genes to the next generation. That is what evolution is all about.

So, something about turning in circles makes a dog safer than if it did not turn in circles. Let’s look at a few reasons that could explain this.

Safety While Sleeping

A sleeping dog is much more vulnerable to attack than one that is awake! So, before resting, they spin around to put their nose in a position where it can best pick up the scent of a predator or other attacker. They are assessing the wind direction and giving themselves the best chance of picking up a scent.

Also, dogs are pack animals and live in family units in the wild. By spinning around they can perform a last check of their pack and make sure that none of the pups have wandered off.

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Clearing Snakes

Lizards, snakes, and insects can be a nuisance to a dog when they are trying to get to sleep in the wild. We know that most human houses do not have a problem with lizards and snakes but you never know! This instinctive behavior is still part of your dog’s psyche.

Marking Territory

By clearing a nice circular area that is slightly bigger than they are, a dog is marking out their bed for the night. They are indicating to other dogs that this is where they are going to sleep so other pack members will have to find somewhere else to rest.

Making a Comfortable Bed

Dogs have not always had padded beds and soft blankets to lie on. In the wild, they would settle on grass or leaves. Turning around in circles is an excellent way of flattening down long grass to make a soft bed. It does the same with leaves and clears snow out of the way in the winter months. It is an ancient way of making a nest.

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Temperature Control

Have you seen your dog circling into a tight ball only to be found sprawled out on its backs half an hour later? This is because they want to keep warm when they are sleeping but soon realize that they are in a centrally heated house!

In the wild in cold climates, a dog has to prepare for sleep by making sure that it can keep warm overnight. By circling, they can build up leaves and snow around their body which acts as insulation. Also, it helps them to curl up tightly into a ball. This reduces their surface area and cuts down on heat loss.

In warmer climates, wild dogs have the opposite problem. Here they need to keep cool as they rest. So, by circling they can clear the top layer of leaves and soil that have absorbed the sun’s heat during the day. They can reach the cooler lower layers of earth that will be more comfortable.

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What This Means for Pet Dogs and Sleeping

So, what can we learn from this about how our four-legged friends like to sleep? The first thing is that they like a comfortable place to rest. Therefore, we need to provide a soft and comfortable bed for our pets.

Also, we have learned that dogs are a bit fussy about having their own space. You may have noticed that your dog gets a little territorial about their bed. It is a good idea to discourage young kids from laying in the dog’s bed for this reason. Your dog may also appreciate having a crate in a quiet part of the house where they can chill without being disturbed.

Now we know that dogs are quite fussy about temperature when they are sleeping. If you think that your dog is either too hot or too cold in their bed, you may want to try a heated dog bed or a cooling dog bed.

Also, it is not a good idea to banish your dog to their crate or bed as punishment. You want their resting place to be associated with positivity.

When Circling Means That Something Is Wrong

Most of the time, circling is a perfectly natural behavior and does not indicate that something is wrong. At the same time, don’t be concerned if your dog does not circle – perhaps they are perfectly happy with their bed as it is. I have noticed that my dog circles before sleeping on the sofa but not before sleeping in his bed!

However, if the circling is excessive and goes on for several minutes, it can indicate that something is wrong. Excessive circling can be seen in dogs with ear infections so keep an eye out for other symptoms such as odor, redness, and discharge. It can also be a sign of hip pain which can be caused by a range of conditions including hip dysplasia and arthritis. This needs to be checked out by a vet.

Osteoarthritis of any of the joints can cause excessive circling because the dog simply can’t get comfortable enough to sleep. You should seek the advice of your vet about this. Orthopedic dog beds can be very useful for easing discomfort.

Some neurological conditions such as a stroke or brain tumor can make dogs circle excessively. Dogs with these conditions usually walk around in circles too.

Anxious dogs can suffer from obsessive-compulsive disorders. They repeatedly carry out the same action such as chasing their tail. It can also cause excessive circling. An animal behavior expert or vet will be able to help you to get to the root of the anxiety and control the behavior.

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Female dogs and circling

Excessive circling can mean that some new pups are on the way! Have you noticed that your female dog is circling more than she used to? This can be a sign of pregnancy. You may also notice that she starts gathering items such as toys and blankets and takes them into her bed. A quick trip to the vet will soon confirm the pregnancy.

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An orthopedic dog bed offers relief for aching joints, hips, and more.
© Lily Chernysheva/

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About the Author

Sharon has a Ph.D. in Public Health but has spent the last decade researching and writing about all things connected with animal health and well being. As a life-long animal lover, she now shares her family home with three rabbits, a Syrian hamster, and a very energetic Cocker Spaniel but in the past she has also been a Mom to Guinea Pigs and several cats!She has a passion for researching accurate and credible information about pets and reviewing products that make pet owners' lives a bit easier. When she isn't checking out new pet products she's trekking around the Welsh mountains and beaches with her dog - although she lets her husband and her three grown up daughters tag along sometimes if they are lucky!

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