Almost every dog owner witnesses the circling behavior that accompanies a dog's presleep routine. The canine's circles are frequently accompanied by investigatory sniffing or digging, which may perplex their human companions. While scientists can't exactly pinpoint a dog's reasons for circling, most hypothesize that this instinctual behavior, practiced by all dogs, is a way of making their bed safe and comfortable before a nap.
Though dogs have been domesticated for thousands of years, they carry with them the instincts that served to protect their feral ancestors. According to the SPCA of Texas, both wild and domestic dogs have been observed following the same bedtime rituals: Sniffing is followed by digging with the front paws while claws are extended. Once the digging is complete, the dog spins in a few circles and lowers himself into the hole he has created.
Making a Bed
Scientists and veterinarians theorize that walking in circles may help dogs flatten the ground's surface into a suitable spot for sleeping. While a domestic dog's bedding may not change on a daily basis, dogs in the wild roam from place to place and use a different bed every night. A wild dog circles his bed to flatten the grass beneath his feet or trample snow into a soft flat spot, according to the website VetStreet. The wild dog's circling may serve to evict any pests or predators, such as snakes, from the potential bedding area, making it a safe spot to lie down.
A dog's digging and circling also may help him to regulate the temperature of his burrow during seasons of extreme heat and cold, according to VetStreet. Digging removes unwanted material from the burrow, while circling positions the dog's body in a curled crescent shape, ideal for conserving body heat. In the summer, your dog may dig cool dirt from his hole and lie down in it to maintain a comfortable body temperature.
When Circling is a Concern
While circling a potential nap site is normal for dogs, excessive circling may be an indicator that something is wrong, according to VetStreet. If your dog circles repeatedly but does not settle into his spot, or if he can't seem to get comfortable or cries as he lowers himself into place, arthritis or even a neurological problem may be to blame. A trusted veterinary professional can help make an accurate diagnosis and ensure that your dog can once again rest comfortably.