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Unraveling the Mystery of Why Dogs Circle Before Sleeping

  • August 11, 2023
  • 4 min read
Unraveling the Mystery of Why Dogs Circle Before Sleeping

Dogs, the loyal and often quirky companions that they are, have confused humans for centuries with some of their behaviors. One particularly curious behavior is the habitual act of walking in circles before lying down to sleep. They walk around 3-4 times and then lie down. Whether your furry friend is preparing for a nap on the living room rug or settling down in their bed, this pre-sleep ritual is a common one. But why do they do it?

Tapping into Ancestral Instincts

The behavior of circling before lying down is believed to be an ancestral trait, dating back to when dogs were wild creatures. Before domestication, dogs were exposed to the elements and potential predators; circling a spot would help them flatten the grass, leaves, or snow, creating a comfortable nest to sleep in. This action also helped to mark their territory, making it clear to other animals that the spot was claimed.

Checking for Danger

In the wild, safety was so important. A dog could ensure no lurking dangers like snakes or larger predators by walking around a potential sleeping spot. This ritual became a way to guarantee a safe night’s sleep. In the contemporary setting, your living room or bedroom is (hopefully!) free of such threats, but the behavior persists. It makes a lot of sense after you think about it. For example, when you go camping, you always check where you set your tent, so it makes sense a dog would check its surroundings for where he sleeps. 

Temperature Regulation

Creating a depression in the ground had another benefit in the wild: temperature regulation. In colder conditions, a shallow pit could shield from chilly winds, while in warmer climes, it could expose cooler earth. Even though modern dogs might be sleeping on cushioned beds or carpets, that age-old instinct to find the perfect sleeping temperature remains. Even with our lives as humans, don’t tell us you haven’t laid in bed and tried to find the best sleeping position.

Scent Marking

Dogs have scent glands in their paws. Walking in circles and scratching at their chosen resting spot, they effectively mark it with their scent. This not only communicates to other dogs that the spot is taken, but the familiar scent might also make the sleeping area feel more secure and homely to them.

Comfort and Familiarity

Dogs also thrive on a routine like humans have pre-sleep rituals – maybe reading a book or dimming the lights. Circling before lying down is a part of this routine, offering them comfort and predictability in their daily lives. For example, I have an Adult Cockapoo that I’ve trained, and when lying down, it will just move around until it has found the comfort it wants. It is really interesting!!

Addressing Potential Concerns

It’s essential to differentiate between typical circling behavior and potential signs of distress. If your dog seems to be circling excessively, appears agitated, or doesn’t settle down after their ritual, it could indicate an underlying issue. This might range from medical problems, like an ear infection causing imbalance, to psychological issues, like anxiety. Regular vet check-ups and keen observation of your pet’s behavior changes are essential. Be aware and watch for signs of these distresses. 


Despite being domesticated for thousands of years, dogs still carry a backpack of evolutionary behaviors. Like the circling before sleep, these actions offer a fascinating glimpse into the rich tapestry of canine history and instinct. While it’s a behavior rooted in survival, it’s also a testament to the adaptability of dogs, merging their wild instincts with the comforts of domestic life.

As dog lovers, understanding these quirks can deepen our bond with our four-legged friends, offering insights into a world driven by instinct, comfort, and the ever-present pursuit of the perfect napping spot.

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zestful Grace

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