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Why do they circle before lying down? 'Wolves circled, and the behavior persists in very un-wolf-like breeds'.

This occasional series explores the reasons for dogs' often intriguing behavior. If you would like to submit a question, please write to Dog Watch Editor, 800 Connecticut Ave., Norwalk, CT 06854, or email

If you're curious about why your dog circles before lying down, and you look on the Internet for answers, you'll find some interesting--though not entirely accurate--theories. Some say wolves and wild dogs circled to tamp down grass to create a bed. Others postulate that dogs wanted to rid the area of snakes and insects. Still others speculate that wolves and dogs wanted to establish their space as they huddled with others for safety and warmth.

Here's the truth of the matter: "The short answer is that we do not know why dogs circle," says Katherine A. Houpt, VMD, Ph.D., former president of the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists and emeritus James Law Professor of Animal Behavior at the Cornell University College of Veterinary Medicine.

Research mightprovide the answer if veterinary behaviorists could study dogs using different substrates--pillows, straw, shavings and bare earth--to see if the circling differs when they have different sites, Dr. Houpt says. "We could also look at the same dogs in warm and cold weather."

For now, she knows of no breed differences in the practice. It's puzzling though, if the behavior is a remnant of ancestral behavior, why dogs who spend the majority of their days lolling on the sofa will rise at bedtime for the ritual.

"Wolves circled, and the behavior has persisted in very un-wolf-like breeds," Dr. Houpt says. "I remember a visiting Toy Poodle-cross who liked to lie on a throw pillow. She would circle before lying even though all four feet had to be together to allow her to turn without falling off."

Dr. Houpt has done some research on the topic. "What I have found out experimentally by video recording shelter dogs at night is that each dog arose every 20 or 30 minutes, circled and lay back down." Her conclusion: The dogs were probably redistributing their weight to ensure comfort, but the mystery remains pending further research.

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Title Annotation:BEHAVIOR
Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Feb 1, 2013
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