If you share your life with a canine companion you'll no doubt have seen them trying to make their own bed, turning in circles until they get it just right.
This can be a puzzling sight, especially when they already have a warm and comfortable bed just waiting to be used. In actual fact, there may be more to the behaviour than meets the eye.
Why do dogs turn around before lying down?
Experts believe that the ritual of circling before sleep descends from our dogs' ancestry. This routine is regularly performed by wild wolves, and is thought to have been inherited by the domestic dog in more recent times.
To check for potential predators before bedtime
While dogs living in warm and cosy homes don't need to circle, they have a genetic predisposition to do so, dating back to an evolutionary trait designed to protect from potential predators.
To check for straggling pack members
Turning around before lying down helps the pack members to check for any danger, ensuring no stragglers have been left behind.
To sleep nose to the wind
There is also a theory among wildlife biologists that wolves actually circle in order to find the direction of the wind. By sleeping with their noses to the wind, they can pick up the scent of a threat approaching.
To regulate their body temperature
You may have noticed that, even with the heating on and a nice cosy dog bed, your dog still seems to circle before sleep. This doesn't necessarily mean they're cold, but it is believed that their ancestors developed the behaviour to regulate body temperature.
Sleeping curled up in a tight ball is essential to help wild canids survive in cold temperatures. They tuck their tail and nose in close to their body, and by doing so are able to preserve body heat.
The circling behaviour doesn't only serve a purpose in colder areas. In hotter parts of the world, dogs may circle before lying down to move away some of the hotter soil on the surface, flattening tall grass and removing any insects in the process. This helps to keep the space safe and prevents over-heating.
To get comfortable
If you've spent time and effort creating a lovely bed for your dog, you may have wondered if the circling means they don't like it. Rest assured, this is very unlikely to be the case. While they may be rearranging their blankets and pillows for optimal comfort, turning around a few times before lying down is an inherited behaviour first and foremost. It's just hard-wired that this is something they do.
On the other hand, should your dog seem restless and unable to lie down comfortably, this could indicate cause for concern. Repeated circling without settling may be an indicator something else is going on.
Excessive circling: Should I be concerned?
As individuals, all dogs have behaviour patterns that are unique to them. What may seem unusual for one dog, could be perfectly normal for another. Some dogs turn around before lying down, others just sink into their snoozing position, and others will nudge every cushion and blanket around until their bed is perfect.
If you suspect your dog is circling excessively, and doesn't seem able to settle comfortably, this could suggest an underlying medical condition.
Orthopedic disorders such as arthritis can make movement painful. Your dog may find it harder to lower themselves, due to joint pain and stiffness. Thankfully, the pain can usually be controlled through medication prescribed by your veterinarian.
Spinning can also be a sign of obsessive compulsive behaviour resulting from stress. In this case, a behaviour modification plan may need to be put in place, along with the support and expert advice of an animal behaviourist. A dog that circles repeatedly could also be showing signs of canine cognitive dysfunction. Ask your veterinarian for advice.
Trying to understand our canine companions is fascinating, but there are some behaviours that remain somewhat of a mystery. Turning around before lying down may just be one of them - an adorable little quirk we learn to love.