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Why Do Dogs Circle? A Dog’s Point of View!

Written by Adaptil, published on 23 November 2021

Getting into a spin is something that dogs do regularly; I know that when I get very excited, I just can’t contain myself and I just go round and round in circles! Sometimes I have so much pent up energy I just have to release it all at once - my owner says I’m having a ‘zoomie’, which is also known as a Frenetic Random Activity Period (FRAP) - and it often happens when I haven’t seen him for a while!

Did you know that we run in circles for a number of reasons; some good and some maybe not so good; it’s down to our owners to figure out why we are circling and help us out if we need it.

Why do dogs circle?

A lot of our current daily actions come from our ancestors, so check out these different reasons for dogs circling! We often circle when...

When we’re excited!

After a long day at home on my own, I get very excited when my owner returns and I want to let them know that I’m really pleased to see them. Wagging my tail, licking them, then spinning around is my way of letting them know that I’m really glad they have come home! I know that they are pleased to see me too because they stoke and talk to me and then try to calm me down.

Sometimes, I might jump up and put my paws on them but they’re not very keen on that. My doggie friend who lives on the next street is a very large German Shepherd and he knocked his owner over, so I must remember not to do that. I’ll try to stay calm - and some other dogs are very good at staying still! - but I’m so happy to see them that I usually can’t help but show my excitement by circling!

I also get excited when my owner picks up my lead - because I know it’s time for a walk - and I love my walkies! He sometimes gets a little impatient because I pace and circle around, and he can’t get me to sit still to attach the lead to my collar. I’m my own worst enemy because I know we would get there quicker if I just sat still - but I’ve just got all this energy and I need to release it.

When we feel like taking a nap!

I know people think I’m just being fussy when I circle around and paw at my bed before I finally flop down, but there’s a reason for this. My ancestors in the wild would paw at leaves and twigs to make a comfy bed to match their body shape - makes sense to me!  Circling also releases my scent onto the bed and is a message to other dogs that the bed is mine, so stay away.

There’s also a train of thought that we are copying our ancestors again because they used to circle around so that they could sleep with their noses to the wind so that they could detect any scents from potential predators.  A whiff of an attack and they would be awake!

Why do Dogs Dig in their Beds and Circle

When we want to go to the toilet

It’s not a very nice thing to talk about but I do like to check out where I’m going to perform before I actually do so!  There are different theories about why we circle before we poop!

  • Firstly, it’s what our ancestors used to do (again!);  before squatting, they used to circle around so that they could scan their surroundings for any predators that might take advantage of them while they were ‘indisposed’
  • Secondly, we might be checking out the ground for any bugs that might take advantage of our ‘vulnerable’ position
  • Thirdly, we could be checking that it’s nice and clean. No-one likes a dirty toilet!
  • Lastly, it’s thought that circling around before we poop helps to stimulate bowel movement

From my point of view, it could be any or all of the above!  All I know is that it feels like the right thing to do to circle and sniff before pooping!

When we are worried or stressed

I’ve heard my human talk to his friend, who has a King Charles Spaniel, called Charlie. Well, Charlie doesn’t feel good when he’s left at home alone, and starts to pace up and down and circle around if he knows that his owner is going to leave him at home alone for a while.

His owner is training him to settle and my human suggested he try an ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser. I’m sure it will help him, as it sends “appeasing messages” to help puppies and dogs feel calm and relaxed in stressful situations. I certainly find it useful - though I hate it when I hear fireworks outside; ADAPTIL Calm Home Diffuser certainly helps me to feel more chilled out.

Compulsive Circling

If you think your dog is circling and pacing for a longer period of time than they do normally, and they don’t stop when you ask them to, you should intervene or get them checked out by a vet.

Although we circle or spin around most days, for some reason or another, when it becomes repetitive it can indicate that something is not quite right. It could be that your dog is getting confused by something, or they could have an ear problem that is causing discomfort, or there may be noises that they can hear - and which humans might not hear - and it is worrying them.

We need a distraction!

Some of my doggie friends are always spinning around, and I think that’s because they get overstimulated with certain things and circling is the only way they know how to express themselves - for some dogs certain songs even spark the circling.  

They need distraction and to be trained to do other things, like scent work or playing hide and seek with the kids - that will certainly help to use up their energy. But then they need to be taught to calm down and chill out - and if they are having trouble, this is something that an accredited behaviourist can help them to learn.

My owner tells me I’m a good boy! But I know that having a good routine, lots of exercise and walks, and mental stimulation all help to keep me happy and content - and then I only circle and spin when my natural instincts kick in, just like my ancestors!

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