Why Does My Dog... Walk in a Circle Before Lying Down?

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Dog curled up in a ball
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Many dogs will circle around a spot before they settle down to rest. While no one can be certain of the exact reason why canines do this, the ritual is likely a residual habit from the days when wolflike dogs lived out in the wild, says veterinary behaviorist Dr. Karen Sueda, DVM, of the VCA West Los Angeles Animal Hospital.

Your dog’s ancestors had to sleep outside, in the elements, without much warmth or safety. Walking around a spot was a way to stamp down grass, leaves or snow and create a soft, level surface — something akin to carving out a nest.

Circle There and Dig This

After she circles, does your dog scratch at the bedding or carpeting before curling up? Just like circling, the digging action is probably an ancestral behavior related to staying safe and comfortable.

In extreme heat, digging a hole was a way to reduce a dog’s body temperature by surrounding herself with cool soil that could help regulate body heat. When it was cold — or even freezing — climbing into a hole allowed a dog to retain body heat and keep cozy.

So why haven’t our pampered house pets evolved away from these behaviors?

Don’t worry — circling is not a sign that your pet has heard the call of the wild. Adaptive behaviors tend to linger long after they’ve lost their usefulness if there’s nothing to discourage them or “select against the habit,” Dr. Sueda says.

When Circling Could Be Cause for Concern

Restlessness can be a sign of discomfort or even pain. If your dog is repeatedly circling and digging but can’t seem to get comfortable, she may have a health problem, such as arthritis or neurological problems.

You should observe your pet to see if she’s having trouble getting up and settling down. If she’s restless, take her to the vet to rule out pain and get a proper diagnosis.

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