Facts about the animal kingdom

Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down?

Josie F. Turner
By Josie F. Turner, Journalist specialized in Animal Welfare. Updated: April 21, 2024
Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down?

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Have you ever watched your furry friend spin in circles before settling down for a nap? It's a common sight that often brings a smile, but have you ever wondered why they do it? This seemingly simple behavior holds a rich history rooted in instinct and serves several purposes beyond just getting comfortable. While domesticated for centuries, dogs still retain some of their wild instincts, evident in this particular habit.

In this AnimalWised article we delve into the reasons behind why dogs circle before lying down, exploring the science and evolutionary significance of this age-old canine ritual.

You may also be interested in: Why Do Dogs Scratch Their Bed Before Lying Down?
  1. Instinctual behavior
  2. Comfort
  3. Temperature regulation
  4. Olfactory communication
  5. Establishing dominance

Instinctual behavior

Circling before lying down is an ingrained behavior with a fascinating history. Wild ancestors like wolves, coyotes, and dingoes faced challenges when finding safe resting spots. Choosing poorly could expose them to predators, harsh weather, or uncomfortable terrain. Circling served a crucial purpose because it allowed them to assess and prepare the area, ensuring a safe and comfortable slumber.

While our domesticated companions enjoy the comforts of home, the instinct to circle persists. Like many canine behaviors, circling can also be seen as a comforting ritual. Engaging in familiar actions rooted in instinct provides dogs with a sense of control and predictability in their environment. This, in turn, can help reduce stress and anxiety.

Circling might be a pre-sleep ritual, but what about the actual position they choose? Dive deeper into the secret language of dog sleeping positions in another article.


Dogs instinctively circle to flatten and prepare the ground where they plan to lie down. This behavior helps them create a more even and level surface, which can significantly enhance their comfort while resting. In the wild, a flat surface would have offered wolves and other wild canines a safer and more comfortable resting spot, reducing the risk of discomfort or injury from uneven terrain.

By circling and patting down the ground, dogs can also adjust the surface to better support their body weight. This can help distribute pressure more evenly across their body, reducing the strain on specific joints or pressure points and promoting better overall relaxation and sleep.

Circling allows dogs to scan and clear the area of any debris, small objects, or potentially harmful items that might be on the ground. This meticulous inspection helps them identify and remove anything that could poke, scratch, or irritate them while they rest. In natural environments, this could include sharp sticks, rocks, thorns, or other foreign objects that could pose a risk to their well-being.

The behavior of circling and preparing a resting spot is a natural adaptation that reflects the survival strategies of wild canines. In the wild, selecting the right resting spot could mean the difference between safety and vulnerability. By circling and assessing the area, dogs are instinctively performing a survival check, ensuring the chosen spot is free from threats and suitable for relaxation.

Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down? - Comfort

Temperature regulation

While circling before lying down is often seen as a comfort behavior, it also plays a crucial role in temperature regulation for dogs.

In cold weather, the ground can be a major source of heat loss. By circling, dogs can find a slightly elevated area or one with better insulation, minimizing contact with the cold ground. This helps conserve body heat and keeps them comfortable.

The story flips in hot weather. Circling allows dogs to find the optimal position for maximizing airflow. Aligning with a breeze or positioning themselves to capture air circulation helps promote cooling through evaporation and ventilation.

This behavior reflects the adaptability of wild canines. From arctic chills to desert heat, their ancestors inhabited diverse environments. Circling, honed over generations, became an instinctual tool for effective body temperature regulation, allowing them to thrive in various climates.

Ever wonder how much shuteye your furry friend actually needs? We delve deeper into canine sleep patterns in another article.

Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down? - Temperature regulation

Olfactory communication

Circling before lying down isn't just about comfort; it's a sophisticated form of canine communication. Dogs rely heavily on smell, using it to understand their world, identify others, and establish social order.

As a dog circles, they leave behind pheromones. Released from paw pads and around the tail, these pheromones are like personal signatures. By spreading these scents, dogs essentially "claim" the spot, letting others know it's occupied.

These scent markers are territorial boundaries. They demarcate important areas like sleeping spots, food sources, or safe zones. By circling and leaving their scent, dogs create a personalized space, announcing their presence and ownership to other canines.

Circling isn't just about claiming space; it's comforting too. Their own scent markers provide a sense of security and familiarity, especially in unfamiliar situations. This is why dogs often revisit and refresh their scent markings – it reinforces their presence and keeps the information fresh for other dogs.

Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down? - Olfactory communication

Establishing dominance

The concept of dominance is a significant aspect of canine behavior, especially in multi-dog households or social settings where dogs interact with each other.

Circling before lying down can indeed be a behavioral display that communicates dominance and establishes social hierarchies among dogs.

When a dog circles before lying down, especially in the presence of other dogs, it can be a way of staking claim to a particular space. This act communicates to other dogs that the circling dog is asserting control and dominance over that area. In environments where resources like food, toys, or attention are limited, circling can also be a competitive behavior aimed at asserting dominance over valuable resources. By circling and marking an area, a dog may be signaling to other dogs that they have priority access to that particular resource or space.

The act of circling can be accompanied by other body language cues that signify dominance, such as erect ears, a stiff tail, or direct eye contact. These physical displays enhance the message of dominance and assertiveness, making the circling behavior even more impactful in establishing social rank.

In some instances, circling can be a direct challenge or provocation aimed at other dogs. The circling dog may deliberately encroach upon another dog's personal space or circle around them in a way that is confrontational. This behavior serves to test the boundaries of dominance and can lead to interactions that clarify the social hierarchy within the group.

We explored the reasons behind circling, but have you ever wondered why your dog chooses a specific spot to sleep? Learn more about the fascinating reasons behind their sleep location in another article

If you want to read similar articles to Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down?, we recommend you visit our Facts about the animal kingdom category.

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Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down?