Critter Culture
Going in Circles: a Dog's Sleeping Ritual

Going in Circles: a Dog's Sleeping Ritual

Critter Culture Staff



Dogs have some strange behaviors. One practice, circling before lying down, is a common habit. It seems a bit bizarre on the surface until you understand what's going on. So why does your pup do this? What's the reason for this quirkiness? Should you ignore it, or is your dog trying to tell you something?


Their pack mentality

Dog sleeping in dog bed Janet Miller / EyeEm / Getty Images

Your pooch is a pack animal. Thousands of years of instinct are bred into your pup. Though they may be a fun and loving furball who prefers cute naps on the sofa today, deep down, that instinct hasn't left.

Wolves, coyotes, and foxes often have this same circling tendency, and it's not just limited to canines; many wild animals do the same when having a snooze in their natural habitats. But the reason isn't set in stone. There are a number of factors that contribute to this behavior.


Making sure the place is safe

Sheltie dog in the basket huettenhoelscher / Getty Images

Safety is a top priority for animals living in the wild. Even as a family pet, it's only natural that your dog carries this intuition with them. One concept that's hard-wired into them is to err on the side of caution.

Circling is a way to prepare a safe, clean spot to bed down for the night. It tramples snow or high grass, which startles any potential threats like insects or pests. This clears the area for a comfortable sleep, also ridding the zone of rocks and other hard debris.



A security and defensive instinct

Lab Puppy laying on pillow jason-cunningham / Getty Images

There's a theory that circling is almost like taking a headcount. Canines know who's present in their packs before settling in for the night. They want to make sure everyone's accounted for, minus intruders. Plus, it's a surveillance method to sense if any predators are on the horizon.

Spinning also puts them in an ideal position to be on guard. It twists their bodies in such a way that, even when asleep, they'll be ready for any problems. Their noses are to the wind and their eyes can scan for danger without making any visible moves.


The planet's magnetic field

Labradoodle on dog bed Productimagepro / Getty Images

While humans lack much of an innate awareness, most animals have a sense of the Earth's magnetic field. This is called magnetoreception. There are proposed theories as to why this occurs, but no solid answers.

Animals rely on magnetoreception for navigation, mapping out areas, attacking prey, and other uses. It's theorized that dogs perhaps favor a particular orientation or find one more inviting depending on the level of the Earth's pull.



Temperature regulation

Beagle dog tired sleeps on a fluffy dog bed curled.

All mammals prefer a comfortable sleeping temperature. Circling helps dogs achieve this perfect climate. It provides both cooling and warmth depending on how it's used.

Reverting to instincts, when dogs circle, they rearrange their top layer to find a cooler one underneath. Think of an animal doing this outside while kicking up a bit of dirt: it's seeking the area that hasn't been heated by the sun. But this natural insulation works in the opposite way, too. Spinning builds up body heat and prepares your furry friend to sleep in a ball to conserve warmth. Pups who seem to run a bit hot in the home tend to circle less than other dogs.


Getting comfy and cozy

Boston Terrier puppy lying on purple blanket, eyes closed, sleeping Rebecca Nelson / Getty Images

Eliminating all the scientific theories and explanations, there's a high likelihood that your dog simply needs to get comfortable. It's perfectly normal for them to want a soft and safe place to nap. Just as humans fluff pillows and arrange blankets, your pooch is doing their version of the same thing.


The type of bed

Overhead view of French Bulldog snuggles with her panda toy in dog bed gollykim / Getty Images

Where your pup sleeps is another factor. When they're using a dog bed, just like mattresses, there are different levels of softness and firmness. If your pooch seems to be circling excessively, there's a good chance they're trying to work with the cushioning to make it conducive to their needs.

Paying attention to your buddy's behavior could indicate there's a problem with the bed. Dogs tend to not circle on a hard floor before plopping down. On high-pile rugs, they may do it a bit. Usually, the softer the area, the more they're inclined to spin. So if your pooch is going above and beyond when circling on its bed, perhaps it's time to find them a firmer pad.


Age isn't just a number

Cozy dog sleeping by fireplace on bamboo hardwood flooring, curled up sleeping.

Age and size can play a big part in why your dog circles before napping. Bodies wear down over time, and this is especially true for larger breeds. With added weight on their joints, they may need an extra minute to find a way to get comfortable. If this is the case, don't hesitate to improve their situation. Adding blankets and getting a bed geared toward their needs will help.


Pain and discomfort

Cute sleepy Jack Russel terrier puppy with big ears resting on a dog bed with yellow blanket Evrymmnt / Getty Images

Along the lines of discomfort, maybe your dog is in some pain. Many breeds are prone to bone, joint, and muscle ailments, and once again, age is a potential factor. If your pup is spinning, lying down, getting up, and repeating this cycle, this could be a sign of a medical problem. Call the vet if your dog can't get comfortable.


Too stressed out

Italian Greyhound all curled up

Finding focus could be another reason your dog is spinning. If this behavior isn't typical for your pup, they could be feeling insecure or stressed. Yes, circling is normal. Yet if you see a sudden or dramatic change in attitude, conduct, or the animal's nature, it's time to make an appointment with your vet. There could be a neurological or medical issue at play.


What Is Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

What Is Cushing's Disease in Dogs?

Get your paws on the latest animal news and information