Why Do Dogs Circle? Your Ultimate Dog Behavior Guide

why do dogs circle
why do dogs circle

There’s a reason why canines are referred to as man’s best friend. They make good companions and great entertainment. We find ourselves asking questions on their crazy behavior like “Why Do Dogs Circle?”

At times though with this crazy behavior, these four-legged animals can be a handful.

Remember that time when your pup rolled in a puddle of mud, and then casually strolled into your freshly vacuumed home?

Another behavior that dog owners never quite understand is when their dogs start racing around in circles.

Initially, it may seem harmless. But when they spin constantly to the point the behavior becomes disruptive, it’s definitely a cause for concern. 

In this guide you will learn:

  • the reasons dogs go round in circles
  • Reasons your dog walks in circles around you
  • about possible behavioral and medical reasons for your dog doing circle work
  • tips on how to stop your dog circling

Why Do Dogs Circle?

Have you ever caught your dog going round and round in circles? If you have, there are a few reasons that explain his behavior. He could be trying to get your attention, express his anxiety, or excitement. It could also be a sign of a compulsive disorder or an underlying medical condition like an ear infection. 

Reasons Why Dogs Circle


Some dog owners hold the opinion that crating their pets is cruel, so they choose not to. 

But for others who have to leave their pups behind as they go to work or run errands, they have no choice but to put their pets in a crate. 

If you belong to the latter category, confining him could be the reason why he goes berserk and starts running around in circles when you free him. The term given to this sudden burst of energy is dog zoomies. 

Although the most common instance in which dogs show this excitement is after they’re reunited with their pet owner, they may also manifest it after getting a bath

Dog zoomies can also be triggered by anxiety that arises when they’re about to be taken to the vet. 

Seeking attention

Dogs try to get your attention in different ways. Some bark incessantly while others make strange postures and bodily contortions. 

For some more intelligent dog breeds, they seek your attention by circling. If your pup suddenly starts moving or running around in circles, you’re bound to stop what you’re doing and direct all your attention to him. Your dog probably knows this, which is why he uses this exact technique.  

Why Does My Dog Circle Me?

why does my dog circle me

There are a couple of reasons that could explain why your dog is always circling you.

These include:

Herding instinct

In the past, some dogs were bred specifically for the purpose of herding livestock.

Examples of herding breeds include:

  • German Shepherd
  • Australian Cattle Dog
  • Australian Shepherd
  • Belgian Sheepdog
  • Border Collie
  • Bearded Collie

While many of these breeds are now domesticated, their herding instincts are still hardwired in their brains. 

So it could be that your dog is circling you to herd you. This is often the case if his circling habit is accompanied by barking, or he tries to direct you to move in a certain direction. 

For instance, if he’s hungry, he may try and force you to go to the kitchen. Or, if he’s bored and wishes to go out, he’ll try and direct you to the door. 


Another reason why dogs circle around you is to express excitement.

This usually happens if he’s about to engage in an activity he likes.

For instance, when you’re about to take him for a walk or for a ride in the car. 

If these are the reasons for your dog circling behavior, they aren’t really a cause for alarm.

But you’ll need to monitor him- especially if you’re dealing with a puppy. You don’t want him to sustain injuries in the course of his spinning activity.

Why Do Dogs Circle Before Lying Down?

You may have also noticed that your pup likes to circle his bed or resting place right before he can lie down. This behavior can be traced back to the dog’s ancestors.

Experts believe that this ritual is inherited from wild dogs. Dog’s ancestors like wolves follow a pretty similar bedtime ritual. 

But why do these animals spin around in circles before lying down?

One school of thought has it that it’s a defensive or survival mechanism. Essentially, the dog is looking for the perfect position to take up, so that he’s ready to fight back in case he encounters predators. 

Another theory put forward is that circling their bed or resting surface makes it more comfortable. 

In the wild, dogs don’t have the luxury of a cozy sleeping area. So they’ll move around in circles, patting down tall grass to make the surface cozy to lie on. 

What Behavior Issues Can Make Dogs Circle?

circling behavior

There are two key behavioral issues that may cause your pooch to start moving around in circles. They are:

Stress or Anxiety

For a puppy or dog that’s experiencing a high level of stress or anxiety, it’s not usual for him to circle.  

There are a dozen things that can potentially stress your pooch, such as:

  • Introduction to a new environment 
  • Making drastic changes to their daily routine, like their nutrition
  • Being left alone, which causes them to experience separation anxiety

Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)

Canine compulsive disorder is characterized by repetitive behavior.

The most common behaviors that dogs do repetitively in this case are:

  • tail-chasing,
  • circling
  • biting their hair
  • pacing
  • vocalizing – whining or howling

So what causes this compulsive behavior in dogs?

Well, some domestic dogs resort to such behavior when they’re ill or confined against their will. 

Your vet can perform a physical exam to determine if your puppy is suffering from OCD. 

The good thing about behavioral issues is that they’re easy to fix.

All you need to do is identify the specific problem and address it.

For instance, if your dog has taken to circling because he is suffering from separation anxiety, you can hire a pet sitter or dog walker to look after him when you’re away.

Similarly, if you plan to introduce any grand changes, then go about the transmission smoothly and gradually. 

Further reading: What Makes A Good Dog Walker

What Medical Issues Can Make Dogs Circle?

As we’ve explained above, your dog can walk in circles for several reasons, such as to express excitement, anxiety, and before he lies down.

With the exception of these activities, if there seems to be no reason for his circling behavior, this could point to an underlying health problem. 

If you suspect that there’s an underlying problem, the best thing to do is take your pup to a vet for a medical examination. The health conditions that are likely to be the culprit are:

Ear infection

canine dementia

If this is the underlying problem, it will often be accompanied by other symptoms such as:

  • Unpleasant smell emanating from his ears
  • Constant head shaking
  • Scratching of the ear
  • Redness

If you notice any of these symptoms, have your veterinarian examine him more closely.

The good thing is, most ear infections can be treated quickly.

Oftentimes, all that’s required is a deep ear cleaning followed by prescription medications to treat the infection. 

Vestibular disease

To understand what vestibular disease is, you should first familiarize yourself with the vestibular system. The core function of this system is to maintain balance. 

Vestibular disease occurs when your dog experiences an abrupt, non-progressive interference of balance. It’s particularly common in senior dogs, which is why it’s popularly known as old dog disease.

If you suspect that your senior dog has this condition, look for other symptoms like:

  • Falling down frequently
  • Walking with his head down
  • Drooling more than usual

Neurological disease

This is another reason why your dog is strangely moving around in circles. The most common diseases that trigger this behavior are:

  • Distemper – this is characterized by incoordination, excessive wandering, aggression and fatigue
  • Neosporosis – a fatal disease that’s typically transmitted by parasites.
  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE) – this is an autoimmune condition that mostly affects the German Shepherd dog, Beagle, Irish Setter, Poodle, and Shetland Sheepdog
  • Canine Dementia – this is also known as canine cognitive dysfunction (CCD), and it’s associated with the aging of your pup’s brain. 

On the same note, a severe injury to the head, back or neck can also impact your dog’s neurological system and lead to circling. 

How To Stop A Dog Spinning In Circles

If his spinning is getting out of hand, it’s your responsibility as a dog owner to intervene and correct it.  

  • Safely and constantly offer distractions when he starts moving in circles. You can give him a chew toy or start shaking a can filled with coins. 
  • Give your dog multiple opportunities to exercise and get his mind stimulated.
  • Find time to bond with your pet dog so that he’s not always seeking your attention.
  • Reduce the amount of time that you confine your dog.

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