Why Dogs Circle Before Lying Down

October 10, 2021

Why dogs circle before lying down. Photo: Paul Bryan

A common question dog owners ask is why dogs circle before lying down?  You’ve likely experienced it.  Just think back to the last time you got comfortable in bed or on the couch and your dog came to join you, but, before he laid down, he circled a few times.

We see this as odd behavior and possibly a bit annoying, but these behaviors are quite normal to dogs. It is said that these behaviors are inherited from their wild canine ancestors. Although that was a long time ago, some things are ingrained in their DNA.


Back in the day, dogs didn’t have it so well! They slept on the grass or on overgrown weeds. Circling before lying down flattened out the area, giving dogs a level surface to lay on. It also helped rid the space of bugs and snakes.

According to a study done by Stanley Coren, PhD., DSc., FRSC, dogs will circle before lying down more often when the surface is uneven, for example a shaggy carpet.  When presented with a smooth surface, dogs are less likely to circle before lying down.  Therefore, the study indicates that “dogs spinning about is to make themselves a more comfortable temporary “nest” to nap in”.

Other Sleeping Rituals

Why Dogs Circle Before Lying Photo credit: Joe Cook

Dogs use their sense of smell for a lot of things. One of them is sniffing out dangerous prey. A theory is that this inherited trait of circling before lying down allows them to find the right position to align with the wind direction. This puts them at an advantage to smell any scents that can alert them to danger.

Although not necessary for the modern dog to monitor the direction of the wind or circle before lying down, dogs will continue to demonstrate this behavior, as well as many other behaviors that they’ve inherited from their ancestors. Whether you find this canine behavior cute and funny or annoying, it was necessary at some point in the evolution of canines.


Written by Jessica Freedman


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