There are few things as heart-warming as having your dog doing the happy circles around you when you return home or when you’re getting ready to go for a walk. This excitable behavior is intriguing; I’ve always wondered why my dog circles around me and where it comes from.
It’s not just me who find this fascinating, I’ve heard from other dog owners too who want to know why their dogs circle around them as well, so I decided to find out. Here’s what I discovered!
Why does my dog do circles around me?
While sometimes it may be as simple as excitement or genetics, you may be surprised to learn that circling may indicate a wide assortment of behavioral or health issues.
Why does my dog walk in circles around me? Dogs circle around their owners due to excitement or in an attempt to herd you. However, sometimes a dog will walk around in circles around you due to anxiety of medical issues.
For example, many dogs circle around their owners in excitement when they first arrive home or in anticipation of a fun activity like going for a walk or riding in the car.
Alternatively, if you have a dog who falls into the American Kennel Club (AKC)’s herding breed group, circling around you may be an attempt to herd you!
However, circling behavior may indicate something more serious such as anxiety or a medical condition. As a result of anxiety, your dog may circle around you in an attempt to be near you for emotional comfort.
A dog circling may also be exhibiting this behavior due to a medical condition.
With so many potential causes of circling, it may be difficult to understand what the reason behind your dog’s circling behavior is. Since medical conditions can also be a reason, it’s important for owners to critically assess their dog’s circling to better understand their canine companion and to ensure that their dog receives any veterinary care if necessary.
After researching the circling behavior, I found information from experts which may assist you with understanding your dog’s behavior:
Where do dogs learn to circle?
Some owners can train dogs to circle around them in an effort to teach them a new trick to keep them mentally stimulated. Other owners train their dog this command to exhibit at dog shows or competitions. However, circling is not usually a training command dogs learn from their owners.
Even though most domestic dogs live a life that many humans envy, they have maintained some survival instincts from their wild ancestors, which includes circling (further detailed below).
Other than the survival instincts baked into their DNA, circling is often a behavior that naturally comes to dogs for a variety of reasons which will be discussed below.
What makes dogs circle around their owners?
Dogs circle around their owners for a variety of reasons:
The most common reason for a dog circling around their owner is excitement; this behavior often presents itself when a dog is reunited with their human, or in anticipation of an activity a dog enjoys.
2. Pain and discomfort
Another reason dogs might circle around their owners is that they are in pain and need help. If you notice your dog moving stiffly or exhibiting any other odd behaviors as they he circles around you, be sure to look over him to see if he suffered any injuries.
3. Genetics and breeding
Breed plays a significant role in this behavior; sometimes dogs of a certain breed are more likely to circle than others.
- Herding breeds: The AKC’s herding group, which includes breeds such as Border Collies and Australian Shepherds, were bred specifically for their ability to herd livestock. While these dogs are very good at what they do, they cannot always “turn off” this skill when living as an urban civilian. Many herding dogs will circle around their families as a result of their herding instincts.
- Bull Terriers: This breed are known to oten spin or chase their tails compulsively.
Why do dogs circle before they lay down?
Domestic dogs inherited this behavior from their wild ancestors who circle before they lay down for the following reasons:
- Scent: Wild dogs can circle to choose the best direction to sleep. If they sleep with the wind blowing in the direction of their nose, they may be able to catch the scent of a predator or a potential prey animal more quickly as they wake up.
- Comfort: Wild dogs circle before laying down in an effort to get comfortable when they are able to rest; they may move uncomfortable debris or unwelcome guests such as bugs by circling before laying down.
- Temperature: Wild dogs who live in hot climates circle to uncover a cooler layer of soil before laying down to sleep. Wild dogs who live in cold climates circle to find the best place to curl up in a tight ball to preserve their body heat as they sleep.
What behavioral issues cause circling?
Dogs can circle around their owner or anywhere for that matter as a result of a behavioral issue, such as:
An anxious dog may circle around their owner in an attempt to stay as physically close to them as possible. As dogs are pack animals, their “love language” is often physical touch; being physically close to her owner brings comfort to an anxious dog.
If your dog suffers from anxiety so severely that it impacts her quality of life, a trusted veterinarian will be able to assist you with formulating a plan for managing your dog’s anxiety which may include training and or medication.
Dogs who are bored may circle their owners, spin in circles or chase their tails as a way to occupy themselves.
If your dog is not receiving daily exercise and mental stimulation, try increasing their daily activity and see if this behavior changes. If your dog is already active, consult with your veterinarian.
3. Strong herding instincts
While a herding dog would receive high accolades on a farm for having strong herding instincts, in an urban environment a strong herding drive may be an issue. Herding breeds are incredibly intelligent and require significant daily mental stimulation and physical exercise.
If a herding dog is not provided with a “job” to fulfil their need for mental stimulation, they will find ways to be “helpful”, which are not always the same things that humans find helpful. While herding children may be helpful to parents in certain circumstances, it has the potential to become problematic if your dog nips as they herd.
Owners of these breeds are encouraged to look for activities to keep their herding dogs busy such as stock dog trials or Treibball. The American Kennel Club addresses redirecting herding instincts in this article.
What medical conditions cause circling?
There are several medical conditions which may cause dogs to exhibit the behavior of circling, such as:
1. Vestibular Disease
The vestibular system controls balance, and dogs who are impacted by this disease may circle as a result of the disease’s affect on their coordination and balance. VCA hospitals discusses this disease further in their article about it.
Dogs suffering from arthritis may move in circles and hesitate before lowering themselves to the ground due to joint pain. Arthritic dogs may circle longer than dogs not affected by this condition due to the difficulty associated with laying down and getting themselves comfortable wherever they are.
If you are unsure if your dog is experiencing arthritis or joint issues, schedule a veterinary appointment to consult with your veterinarian on the best ways to help your dog be more comfortable.
To learn more about arthritis in dogs, read this article by the AKC.
The behavior of circling in dogs is much more complex than many people think. While most dogs circle around their owners as a result of excitement, circling may also be a result of anxiety, boredom, breeding, survival instincts, or medical conditions.
If you are unsure if your dog’s circling is indicative of a medical issue, be sure to schedule an examination with a trusted veterinarian to arrange for the care he may require.