Why Do Dogs Turn Around Before Lying Down?


It seems that you can take the dog out of the wild but you can’t take the wolf out of the dog. Modern, domesticated dogs frequently engage in behaviors that are left over from their ancient wolf ancestors. One of these behaviors is turning around, usually three times, before lying down. No one is really certain why dogs follow this behavior but there are some theories.

According to one theory, dogs originally circled before lying down in order to tamp grass, sticks and leaves down and make a space more comfortable. Dogs who circle today, even when they have a comfortable, expensive dog bed, still seem to be trying to make their spot more comfortable before lying down. Even if your dog is sleeping on sheepskin or something soft and comfy, your dog will circle and perhaps paw at the material to make it to his liking.

Another theory suggests that dogs originally circled so they could claim their “territory” before sleeping. This would let other dogs know that this was their space and they shouldn’t bother them while sleeping.

Per another theory, dogs circled so they could rid the spot of any snakes or biting creatures before they laid down. This would make the behavior one of self-protection.

Others suggest that the behavior was done so dogs could look all around before lying down to make sure there were no predators or intruders nearby. Circling before lying down would allow the dog to take a good look around for safety reasons.

Still others suggest that while dogs circled they could test the wind both to find any potential intruders and so they could turn their noses to it so they could remain alert while they slept.

Circling and making a bed in high grass is similar to nesting behavior for other animals so dogs could also simply be following instincts to nest while they sleep.

Many dogs will also do some digging when they are circling, especially in hot weather. In the outdoors this helps keep a dog cooler. So circling and sleeping behavior may be related to ways that a dog keeps himself warm or cool.

Most modern, domestic dogs do seem to follow the instinct to turn around before lying down. Not all dogs do it, but most dogs will do it some of the time. If you watch your own dog’s behavior when he gets ready to sleep you will probably observe him turning around before lying down at least some of the time. Try to discover how often he does this and under what circumstances. Your dog may not circle if he’s taking a short nap but when he’s getting ready to sleep for the night he will probably circle and make himself comfortable for a long sleep.

If you could ask your dog why he’s turning around before sleeping he probably couldn’t tell you. But his wolf ancestors would probably know.

Does your dog need training?  If so visit us at Canine Behavior Specialists and give us a call, or for our out of town readers  .

Until next time,

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About the Author: Wayne Booth is owner of Canine Behavior Specialists in Nashville, TN.  Wayne has been teaching people how to become Professional Dog Trainers since 1990 and he is the Training Director ofCanine Behavior Specialists Network.

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