If you have a dog, you’ve seen them do it: before they lay down for a nap in their favorite spot, they spin around. Sometimes a few times, sometimes too many times to count! What is causing this seemingly unusual methodical and habitual behavior?
As a general rule, there are several accepted reasons that dogs spin around before lying down, including increasing blood flow for warmth, getting comfortable, and better protecting themselves and the pack from predators. Spinning is a trait they inherited from their wolf ancestors. Although the behavior is normal, if you see your dog is spinning excessively, consult your vet.
It can be puzzling to see, but there are good reasons your dog spins before lying down, but I have found several reasons why this habit evolved in wild canines, why your dog still spins, and what to do if you notice excessive spinning in your dog.
Why Do Canines Spin Around in the Wild?
You can observe dogs of all breeds , even in small spaces, spin before curling up on the ground. Some of the reasons dogs spin around before lying down can be chalked up to instincts that had protected their ancestors in the wild. You can see the same spinning behavior in wild canines like wolves, coyotes, and foxes before lying down, and it helps them accomplish several things before they settle down for a good snooze.
Spinning Helps Them Check for Predators
Wild animals are highly vulnerable when they’re sleeping. It makes sense that wolves and other pack animals are on high alert before they let their guard down and fall asleep. Wild wolves and dogs may circle before lying down to get a good 360-degree view of their surroundings. They can check the grass and horizon for predators or rival wolves lying in wait. They could also ensure that they’ve picked a nice, protected spot for a rest.
Making circles in the grass could also scare up potential small threats, like spiders or snakes in the grass under the dog. They make an extra secure spot to lie in. This is often a theory proposed for why dogs also circle before squatting to urinate or defecate.
Spinning Protects the Pack
Wolves and wild dogs are highly protective of their pack mates. They spend all day with their family, sleep together, and have highly structured social systems. Before lying down, they may circle to scan to pack to see if anyone is missing.
The wolf social hierarchy could also be in play. Every member has their place; some are dominant, while others are submissive. This could determine where the dog can sleep. By circling their resting place, a pack member could be trying to mark the area as their spot. Dogs have glands between their toes that can secrete pungent pheromones. When the dog walks, they spread the pheromones on the ground.
You can see the same sort of marking behavior when your dog is urinating or defecating. He might spin around in a circle before squatting or kick their feet back when they’re finished.
Spinning Makes Them More Comfortable
In the wild, dogs don’t have a nice blanket or smooth carpet to lie down on—they need to make a sleeping area in dirt, grass, and underbrush. This way, they have a comfortable and safe spot to lie down. Stepping in circles tamps down long grass for a smooth surface and ensures they won’t lie on prickly thorns or sharp rocks. When dogs need to sleep in the snow, they might circle to create a nest in a snowbank.
Curled up isn’t just your dog’s favorite position. Wild canines sleep nose to tail (especially in the cold) to conserve heat and also because they feel more comfortable. Circling helps them get into that position, close to other pack members.
So, Why Do Domesticated Dogs Spin Around Before Lying Down?
Ok, so we know why wild wolves and dogs like to spin around before resting, but why do domesticated dogs with fluffy doggy beds and safe, comfortable houses still spin before lying down?
For Comfort and Warmth
Curled up in a ball probably feels good to your dog. It’s a less vulnerable position than on their back, and allows them to jump back into action quickly. Spinning before nestling down into their doggy bed helps curl their spine and get them into position.
Dogs may also be trying to recreate the sort of grass ‘nest’ they have in the wild. Also, you might notice your dog spinning around to sleep curled up more in colder months. This position covers their warm bellies and helps to conserve heat.
Sleeping is a vulnerable time for an animal, even a domestic dog that’s safe inside. Spinning before lying down may recreate those feelings of due diligence that dogs in the wild get from securing their place in the pack and the safety of double-checking their surroundings. Even though they’re in no danger of lying down on something painful or dangerous, it may soothe them just to check.
What it comes down to is just pure instinct. The multiple circles might seem pointless in a pile of blankets or on a stretch of carpets, but your dog is just doing what feels natural. Spinning in circles makes them feel at ease, even if it’s no longer necessary. Many behaviors, including spinning around before urinating or defecating, are done out of natural instinct. The extra feeling of security helps them fall asleep and get comfortable.
Is Your Dog Anxious?
While spinning is completely normal, extra spinning on occasion might just mean your dog is trying to soothe herself from anxiety with this spinning behavior. Maybe they’re in a new space, are bored, or feel like something is wrong. Behavior like this is usually just temporary. If you notice your dog is spinning more often or doing it each time much more than usual, it may be a sign of illness, pain, or injury, and you’ll need to take him to a vet.
When Should You Be Worried?
Spinning before lying down is an innate behavior that’s completely normal and healthy for any dog. However, if you notice excessive spinning or your dog is suddenly spinning when they haven’t done that before, it could mean a problem.
Dogs who are experiencing pain or feeling ill may circle more than usual, trying to get comfortable. If they have muscle or joint pain, they might not be able to achieve the comfortable position they need to sleep.
This could be a sign of injury, arthritis, muscle strain, or even a neurological issue. You might notice your dog circle, lie down, and immediately get back up, repeat the process, or circle excessively while changing directions. If your dog is quick to flop down when they’re ready to sleep and suddenly needs to circle, it could be a sign of something wrong as well.
If your dog is suddenly circling more than usual or is having trouble lying down or rising, you should consult your vet.
Dogs have all sorts of habits and instincts that are throwbacks to their wild canine ancestors. We can explain some of these behaviors with theories, but the fact is, we’ll never know for sure exactly why dogs spin around before lying down. What we do know is that it’s perfectly natural and might help dogs accomplish several things:
- It helps them feel safe.
- It helps them to get comfortable.
- It helps them create the perfect sleep space.
- It helps them keep an eye on the pack.
So, not to worry…your pup is just heeding the call of the wild. They’re doing what comes naturally and makes them feel comfortable and safe.