Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down? If you are wondering why dogs circle before lying down, most likely you have watched your dog engage in this ritual many times in the past. Your dog may be doing this when he hops into bed and goes round and around and around possibly giving you a headache or a dizzy spell just by watching him. So what gives? All that circling won't get him nowhere so what's the purpose of it? Isn't it just a waste of energy and time? As in the case of many other odd dog behaviors, what makes no sense to us, actually has some purpose for dogs. While we don't know for sure the exact reason as to why dogs walk in circles and turn around before lying down, we can only hypothesize, so here are a few "pawsibilities."
An Ancestral Behavior
Dog owners often forget that despite the fact that their canine companions eat from shiny bowls and wear collars studded with rhinestones, dogs are prone to engaging in residual habits reminiscent of the old days when they lived out in the wild. While your dog may now sleep on a plush bed, inside a crate or in a dog house, things weren't that way many years ago. The behavior of circling before lying down therefore can be categorized under the ancestral behavior category, behaviors dogs have retained from their wild ancestors such as burying bones, howling with other dogs and engaging in territorial marking. While these behaviors may not seem to have an immediate survival purpose, we can hypothesize that they must have improved survival to a certain extent or they would have extinguished at some point. So why do dogs turn in circles before lying down? Following are some hypothesis.
Creating a Comfy Bed
One hypothesis is that dogs perform the circling because in the past dogs were possibly sleeping on tall grass or on a bunch of leaves. So what does the circling before lying down accomplish? It makes the dog step on the tall grass or leaves so that he can create a comfy surface, possibly, even one that could create a bit of insulation from the elements. The instinct still remains today even if your bed is comfy enough and some dogs perform the ritual even if sleeping on hard surfaces. If your dog also digs or scratches at the bed, this can also be a behavior reminiscent of the days when dogs used to dig up a hole in the dirt to cool themselves down in hot days.
Scaring Pests Away
Another hypothesis has it that the walking in circles gave any unwanted critters an opportunity to slither away. This is also a plausible theory considering that in the wild, dogs could have easily encountered unwanted critters around the fields such as lizards, rats or even snakes. And just as humans, no dog would want to share their sleeping spots with any creepy crawlies!
Claiming Personal Turf
On the other hand, the whole grass flattening ritual could have been a way for a dog to claim his turf. By flattening the area, the dog was likely giving a visual sign to other dogs that the area has been claimed. After all, this makes sense if you think about it. Here is one thought that crossed my mind. Dogs use their urine to mark their territory, but since dogs do not like to urinate where they sleep, they must find another way to claim their sleeping spots. Sleeping spots are still considered valuable resources in domesticated dogs, and sometimes fights even erupt over them, so it wouldn't be surprising if in the past dogs were protecting them. In the past, the flattened grass areas might have provided a non-confrontational way for dogs to claim ownership over a specific spot.
So as seen, there are several theories, but one thing seems for sure, that circling behavior must have had a precise purpose to make it so far: creating a safe, comfy spot where to fall asleep. Roger Abrantes in the book "Dog Language" seems to agree with this claiming that the circling behavior is simply a maneuver for the dog to curl up his spine so he can sleep in a ball and protect his belly and snout from the wind and cold. Regardless of the many theories, rest assured that should you purchase your dog the best doggy bed on the planet, the turning around in circles instinct will likely prevail and continue to amuse us--or perhaps irritate us, if we're sharing the same bed!
Did you know? According to author and dog behavior consultant, Arden Moore, dogs who sleep curled up in a ball keep their muscles tensed which makes them less relaxed and less likely to twitch in their sleep compared to dogs who stretch out.