Why do dogs circle before lying down? Just like humans, dogs may too have their own bed-time rituals. Circling before lying down is just one of them. As in the case of many other odd dog behaviors that make no sense to us, that purposeless circling has actually some purpose for dogs. Of course, until the day dogs can talk and explain the exact reasons as to why they do the many odd things they do, we can only craft some hypothesis, 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 raising their legs to pee.
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 behavior 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. In the olden days indeed, a dog's sleeping area was likely rugged and quite drafty.
Why do dogs still circle though if nowadays they are provided with comfy beds? Dogs are creatures of habit. The instinct still remains today regardless and some dogs perform the ritual even if sleeping on hard surfaces. It's sort of the canine equivalent of the pillow fluffing bedtime ritual that humans do.
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.
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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 another 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 already protecting them. In the olden days, the flattened grass areas might have provided a non-confrontational way for dogs to claim ownership over a specific spot.
My theory makes sense also considering the fact that dog feet are equipped with special glands that secrete pheromones. Other dogs who happen to visit the area may therefore detect these pheromones. This also explains why dogs kick dirt after pooping.
Now That You Know...
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 you--or perhaps irritate you, 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.