Why Is My Dog Walking in Circles?

It might be amusing to watch a dog walking in circles, especially as they try to find the perfect place to nap. But sometimes the explanation behind the circling isn’t something to smile about. So why is your dog walking in circles? Here are seven possible reasons.

1. Instinct

Many dogs walk in circles before lying down to rest. And that’s a perfectly natural behavior that likely traces back to their ancestors. “Your dog’s ancestors had to sleep outside, in the elements, without much warmth or safety,” according to VetStreet. “Walking around a spot was a way to stamp down grass, leaves or snow and create a soft, level surface.”

Plus, lots of dogs also prefer to circle before eliminating. This instinctual behavior lets them scope out their spot, just like when they lie down to rest. And it allows them to flush out any dangers, such as snakes, before they do their business.

2. Tail-chasing

A dog is chasing its tail.Credit: Alona Rjabceva/Getty Images

Another relatively common reason dogs turn in circles is when they’re chasing their tails. For some, the circling might be completely benign. For instance, puppies often chase and chew their tails as they become aware of their bodies, according to VCA Hospitals. And other dogs might chase their tails simply because it provokes a positive, amused response from their humans.

Still, sometimes tail-chasing is nothing to laugh about. Dogs with pent-up energy might chase their tails as a form of entertainment. Plus, there might be a medical reason behind the behavior. Skin conditions, issues with anal glands, parasites or other discomforts all might incite dogs to circle as they reach for the spot on their rear that’s bothering them.

3. Anxiety

Along the same lines as tail-chasing, anxiety can lead a dog to turn in circles. Canines who are bored, stressed, overexcited or simply lack mental and physical stimulation might resort to circling. Plus, dogs who are caged or penned in small spaces for too long might obsessively circle the perimeter — and even continue the behavior after they’re let out.

Sometimes, this behavior might become an obsessive-compulsive disorder. “ A dog suffering from separation anxiety may chase his tail like a nervous person bites his nails,” according to VCA Hospitals. “Another dog may chase his tail when over-excited by the presence of a visitor, or an animal or bird in the yard.” The help of a veterinarian or behaviorist might be necessary to break this habit and treat the underlying issue.

4. Neurological conditions

There are many medical conditions that can cause a dog to circle, and several of them have neurological origins. Tumors, head trauma, strokes and seizures all can damage the brain and result in an uncoordinated gait and circling, among other symptoms.

Furthermore, some dogs (especially seniors) might have canine cognitive dysfunction — the dog version of Alzheimer’s. “Canine cognitive dysfunction can occur for a number of reasons, like an accumulation of abnormal proteins in the brain,” according to PetMD. “This creates a build-up of plaque, which eventually damages nerves and results in the loss of brain function.” This damage might lead a dog to be uncoordinated or pace in circles.

When the behavior has neurological origins, dogs typically only circle in one direction, and it’s very difficult (or impossible) to get them to stop and turn the other way. Plus, their eyes might have trouble focusing or look abnormally dilated. So if a dog is exhibiting any of these symptoms, it’s important to get them to a vet right away.

5. Infections

Veterinarian examining dog's earCredit: bymuratdeniz/Getty Images

Ear infections are a common cause of circling in dogs, and usually it’s the deeper or lingering infections that are most worrisome. “These more advanced cases can be very serious, and could lead to deafness, facial paralysis, or signs of vestibular disease, such as head tilting, circling, and lack of coordination,” according to the American Kennel Club. Symptoms of a typical ear infection include head shaking, odor, redness, swelling and pawing at the ear. So it’s important to check your dog’s ears regularly for any of these signs, and seek treatment before the infection spreads.

Furthermore, there are many other infections that might result in a dog walking in circles. Respiratory infections can have results similar to ear infections. And any infection that attacks the brain or nervous system can cause a loss of coordination. For instance, dogs with canine distemper “develop circling behavior, head tilt, muscle twitches, convulsions with jaw chewing movements and salivation (‘chewing gum fits’), seizures, and partial or complete paralysis,” according to the American Veterinary Medical Association. So it’s critical to vaccinate your dog and seek prompt veterinary attention at the first sign of disease.

6. Vestibular disease

Vestibular disease is another common cause of a dog walking in circles, especially in older dogs. Vestibular issues also can bring on a head tilt, lack of coordination, nausea and vomiting, according to PetMD. The symptoms can arise spontaneously, and many times veterinarians aren’t able to identify their source.

Fortunately, idiopathic vestibular disease often resolves itself with supportive care. Make sure your dog is eating and drinking, and watch them so they don’t get hurt if they lose their balance. But it’s still important to visit your vet because these symptoms tend to mimic more serious conditions, such as a stroke or brain tumor.

7. Pain

A senior dog with a white face is lying in grass.Credit: Akchamczuk/Getty Images

Dogs in pain might excessively circle — especially when they’re lying down to rest, simply because they can’t find a comfortable position. “You should observe your pet to see if she’s having trouble getting up and settling down,” according to VetStreet. “If she’s restless, take her to the vet to rule out pain and get a proper diagnosis.”

In theory, any medical condition could make a dog restless enough to keep getting up and circling. But some common culprits are arthritis or soreness in their body. Plus, some dogs might circle due to gastrointestinal issues that cause pain and discomfort, especially life-threatening bloat. So it’s important to keep an eye on this behavior to make sure there’s not something serious going on.

Main image credit: Mike Watson Images/Getty Images


Hegel Geronimo
Past Member about a month ago

The bad behavior of my dog forced me to investigate how I could train him. I found this system online and it has given me excellent results, https://tinyurl.com/dogbestbehavior ! He no longer bites my furniture, or my shoes, no longer urinates in the room, and no longer barks like crazy!

Pietro M
Pietro Maiorana2 months ago

Questo è un comportamento altamente strano e allo stesso tempo antipatico.

Daniel N
Past Member 2 months ago

Thanks for posting

Chad A
Chad Anderson2 months ago

Thank you.

Connie O
Connie O2 months ago


Val P
Val P2 months ago


Roslyn McBride
Roslyn McBride2 months ago

I thought that was common knowledge.

hELEN h2 months ago


Val P
Val P2 months ago


danii p
danii p2 months ago