Location: Outside U.S.
Date: Fall 2011
Why do dogs turn in circles before sleeping or sitting down?
An interesting question.
I've observed this in my dogs for over a decade. One of my several dogs, all Jack Russell terriers, not only does this before sitting down or sleeping, but she will spin continuously, kind of like a pin-wheel. I've seen her become so dizzy from doing this, she has to lean against the fencing until the dizziness goes away.
I have submitted blood samples for most of my dogs to the dog genome project in Bethesda, Maryland. I've heard that one investigator was looking into possible research into the possible genetic causes of this behavior, and whether or not it is passed from parent to the young.
As far as your question, I have read that the thinking is that, from long ago, when dogs lived both as predators and potential prey of other animals, the walking in circles was an attempt to male sure the surroundings were clear. The circling could help the dogs see, and smell, all around several times to make sure that there was nothing nearby waiting to attack them.
I have also read that dogs prefer to sleep so that nothing can sneak up on them while they are sleeping. By this, I mean they prefer to lie with a wall to their back so that they know they are safe from that direction. My dogs sleep in kennels, which, like dens of their ancestry, provide a feeling of security while they are sleeping, a time they might be, in the wild, vulnerable to attack.
Thanks for using NEWTON!
Sometimes the simplest answer is the truth.
They are just looking for the most comfortable way to lay down.
That is a good question. Typically that kind of behavior is associated with bedding down and nesting. Often dogs in the wild would trample down grass or leaves to make a comfortable place to sleep.
I hope this helps.
Louis M. Huzella, DVM
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Update: June 2012