Mental problems

My Dog Walks in Circles

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: March 21, 2024
My Dog Walks in Circles

See files for Dogs

All behaviors have their motives, even if their impetus is an unconscious one. This means understanding said motives can help us to understand what a dog's behavior might say about their well-being. In this AnimalWised article on my dog walks in circles, we look at what causes might be behind spinning and disorientation in canines.

As a clinical sign, walking around in circles can be symptomatic of various diseases and conditions. The range of these diseases is wide, encompassing neurological conditions, degenerative disorders, behavioral problems and more. Such diversity means establishing a primary cause can be a complex and often protracted process. As you will see below, there are also external causes which can result in this behavior in our dog. Keep reading to get an idea of why your dog might be walking in circles.

  1. Why do dogs circle before lying down?
  2. How to know if my dog is sick
  3. Reasons your dog walks in circles
  4. How to stop a dog walking in circles

Why do dogs circle before lying down?

Before we discover medical reasons why your dog might be walking in circles, we need to point out doing so is not always indicative of a problem. Dogs have various different behaviors which relate to their routine. Circling is one which is commonly seen before a dog lies down. Different dogs will do it to varying extents, but the reasons are usually the same.

The first reason a dog turns around before they lay down is inherited from their ancestors. In the wild, dogs will not have the comfort and security they have in the domestic environment. When they lie down to sleep, they need to do everything they can to withstand an attack or at the very least be aware of it as soon as possible. Walking in a circle before laying down gives the dog an opportunity to sense the direction of the wind as well as pick scan their environment for sights and smells which may provide a threat.

Another reason for spinning around before lying down is comfort. By walking in a circle, the dog can help prepare the ground for their body, whether this is the actual ground, a sofa or dog bed. Certain breeds such as the Greyhound may do this more as their bony frame makes lying on the ground for prolonged periods uncomfortable. The reason for this behavior is similar to why dogs scratch the ground before lying down.

Problems arise when the dog circles too often, does it compulsively or if they appear disorientated when they do so. Below we see why this is a problem.

How to know if my dog is sick

Since walking in a circle doesn't necessarily mean the dog has a problem, we need to be able to distinguish between healthy and unhealthy behavior. Firstly, we will need to assess the context of the behavior. Has anything changed in the home recently? Are there any new members in the family? Have you changed the outlay of a room? Since dogs value routine so much, any change might help us to se what is wrong.

Also, we need to look at concurrent physical and behavioral signs to a dog constantly walking in circles. We need to check their status by looking out for:

  • Loud noises either inside or outside of the home (e.g. fireworks, sirens, etc.) which can cause stress.
  • Their physiological needs, ensuring all aspects are covered, such as their food, water, sufficient daily exercise, etc.
  • Whether they are simply looking for a suitable place to sleep.
  • Signs of stress which might relate to external factors, such as moving home or being in the presence of other dogs.
  • Signs of stress due to hormonal changes, something which occurs most often in non-sterilized dogs.
  • Reactions to certain stimuli such as new family members.

If you observe one or more of the issues above, it is likely the problem is behavioral. However, if none of them sufficiently explain the reason for your dog waling in circles all the time, then it is possible they have developed a certain illness or medical condition. While we can help by showing you some of the potential reasons your dog exhibits these symptoms, you will not be able to achieve a diagnosis on your own. This will require taking your dog to the veterinarian so they can carry out the correct diagnostic tests.

When you think the reasons for a dog waling in circles are psychological, you should still take the dog to veterinarian. They will not only rule out a physical reason, but they can point you in the right direction for treating a behavioral issue. They can recommend a canine ethologist who can work with you to help the dog regain their emotional balance. An ethologist can also provide practical ways to improve the dog's circumstance.

My Dog Walks in Circles - How to know if my dog is sick

Reasons your dog walks in circles

In the circumstance whereby stress or a compulsive behavioral disorder are not causing your dog to walk in cicles, we need to look for physical issues. While a veterinarian will be able to provide a proper assessment of the dog's state of health, the following may be the cause of this behavior:


A dog constantly walking around in circles could be doing so due to physical pain. A physical trauma such as falling over or being hit by a car can cause injuries we may not even be able to see on their body. An internal trauma such as a broken bone or torn ligament might cause the dog's mobility to change. You may also see concurrent symptoms such as the dog hiding, a disinterest in walking or playing, showing visible signs or pain or not wanting to be touched. Treatment involves addressing the injury.

Full anal glands

A dog's anal glands are located in the perianal area. They release a secretion which is important for communication with other dogs and animals. However, if they become impacted or blocked, they can swell up. This causes them to be very painful for the animal. A dog may walk in circles due to their trepidation in sitting down. We will need to express the anal glands ourselves or take them to a veterinarian if they have become infected.

Cognitive dysfunction syndrome or senile dementia in older dogs

In addition to walking in circles, a dog may show other symptoms such as having a wobbly gait or being disorientated. A change in the dog's gait may imply the dog has a disease affecting their musculoskeletal system, such as hip dysplasia or ataxia. These are often problems which are more commonly suffered by older dogs. However, this would not likely result in the dog walking in circles.

If you do see this circling behavior in senior dogs, then we need to consider canine cognitive dysfunction syndrome. This is a condition often equated to Alzheimer's disease in humans. This condition will likely be accompanied by other symptoms such as disturbed rest, strange vocalizations, incontinence, etc. Walking around in circles disorientated is due to their confusion.

Since CCDS is a degenerative disorder, treatment is based on slowing its progress. This may involve psychoactive drugs, behavioral modification training and nutritional support.

Other neurological problems

While CCDS is a type of neurological disorder which affects old dogs, there are other neurological problems which could be causing your dog to walk in circles. Among them is vestibular disease, a range of neurological disorders which cause the dog to lose their balance.

Infectious diseases can also affect a dog's balance and walking. These are infections which affect the dog's brain and its ability to send signals to the rest of the dog's body, such as canine distemper. Even liver diseases can alter the behavior of a dog and cause them to walk in circles, although it is not a very common symptom.

Congenital diseases

Congenital malformations such as hydrocephalus in dogs can affect the dog's nervous system. While the ways in which it is affected may be unpredictable, it is possible it will affect how the dog walks.

Behavioral problems

Stereotypes, anxiety, etc., are considered behavioral problems that can produce this type of reaction. A stereotypy is a repeated and ritualized behavior or movement that leads to no end. However, both stereotypy and anxiety are problems that must be treated by a specialist. The underlying cause needs to be addressed before improvement can be made, something which can be difficult to determine.

My Dog Walks in Circles -

How to stop a dog walking in circles

As we state above, stopping circling behavior in dogs requires a proper diagnosis, something only a qualified veterinarian can carry out. For example, if our dog is walking in circles as part of a normal behavioral pattern, trying to correct it can cause them more harm than good. A vet will be able to determine whether the problem is down to an underlying medical issue or a psychological one.

It is important to remember that not all causes of circling are going able to be treated. Some will need to be managed to prevent the symptoms getting worse. In very extreme cases of neurological or degenerative disorders, it is possible this care will only be palliative.

This article is purely informative. AnimalWised does not have the authority to prescribe any veterinary treatment or create a diagnosis. We invite you to take your pet to the veterinarian if they are suffering from any condition or pain.

If you want to read similar articles to My Dog Walks in Circles, we recommend you visit our Mental problems category.

Write a comment
Add an image
Click to attach a photo related to your comment
What did you think of this article?
1 comment
Chareen Bronkhorst
My dog is suddenly walking with her head down and is wining and don't want to be touched and is walking like she is confused what could be wronv
1 of 3
My Dog Walks in Circles