You’re lying down to relax after a long day and invite your canine companion to join. He shuffles over to you and looks like he’s about to lie down. But before he can find a comfortable resting position, he begins walking in tight circles and scratching the surface beneath him. He lies down just to stand back up and repeat the process. He may go around two or three times before finally settling down.
Does this sound familiar?
So it begs the questions: Why do dogs walk in circles and scratch the ground before lying down to rest?
Although there have not been any actual scientific studies on why dogs circle before they lie down, it’s thought to be a leftover behavior from their wolf ancestors who used to live in the wild.
Nesting & Getting Comfortable
In the wild, before canine ancestors like wolves would settle down to rest, they would prepare a safe and comfortable spot. The circling around motions would shoo off bugs, critters, and snakes lurking beneath. They would also scratch the ground beneath them to flatten the brush and leaves. Sure, our domesticated dogs may now live in the lap of luxury, but some argue they still retain this behavior from their wild ancestors’ instincts.
Dog behaviorists also believe this passed-down behavior is a safety precaution. According to VC Animal Hospital:
“Some wildlife enthusiasts believe that wolves sleep with their noses to the wind so that they can quickly pick up on a threatening scent. Circling allows the wolf to determine the direction of the wind so that he can best position himself. With a quick whiff, the wolf knows that he may be in danger and is alerted for a potential attack.”
Dogs don’t regulate their body temperature like humans do, and they certainly can’t walk over and turn up the heat when they’re chilly. That’s why it’s believed dogs circle to find a sleeping position that will help regulate their body temperature. When canines are cold, they may circle around until they wind themselves into a tight little ball. The tighter they can tuck themselves, the warmer they’ll be. On the flipside, if a dog is hot then they may start digging in an attempt to find cool ground.
Dogs are intelligent creatures and usually have a great reason for their actions.