Why Dogs are Walking in Circles Before They Poop or Lay Down

Last Updated: March 26, 2023

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Dog walking in circles before pooping

Dogs can be an enigma! Your pooch likely has many oddball behaviors that you don't fully understand. They may cause you to look at your dog funny or question what they're thinking. But for the most part, you chalk it up to doggy weirdness and move on.

However, sometimes, it's good to question why dogs do what they do. Understanding your pup's behavior could give you a glimpse into its health.

Take walking in circles as an example. In most cases, it's perfectly normal. But in others, it could be a sign of trouble. Knowing the difference could help you get the care your dog needs. So, what does it mean?

Circling: A Harmless and Normal Force of Habit

Before we get into the potentially problematic reasons dogs walk in circles before pooping or laying down, let's talk about when it's normal.

The good news? It's going to be no cause for concern for a majority of dogs.

Don't panic if you see your canine companion walk in circles before doing their business, or take what seems like forever to find a comfortable sitting spot. That's standard behavior for many canids. 

Dogs join foxes, wolves, and even cats in this quirky habit.

2 Reasons for Walking in Circles Before Pooping

We've all experienced it: You take your pup out to do the dirty. But instead of going immediately, they walk in circles.

For you, it's a frustrating thing that will make you battle the weather. But to your dog, it's of the utmost importance! There are a few reasons why dogs do this.

- Safety

The first is safety. Your dog is at its most vulnerable state when defecating. They must let their guard down. In the wild, it's when they would be most susceptible to surprise attacks! 

Fun fact: One of the reasons why dogs stare at you when pooping is to ensure you're on the lookout for trouble.

So why the circling?

Walking in circles gives your dog a chance to assess the area. They're testing the ground and making sure they can quickly sprint out of danger if it comes!

- The Perfect Spot

Another reason for circling is to find the perfect spot.

Remember: Dogs rely on their scent to send messages and communicate with other dogs. It's like dropping a treasure chest for some other dog to find.

Pooping is also marking territory. Your pooch needs to find the absolute right spot to claim and send a message.

Related: How To Make A Dog Poop Quickly

2 Reasons for Walking in Circles Before Laying Down

While not as frustrating as the poop scenario, watching your dog walk in circles before they decide to lie down is also puzzling.

It's bizarre if they're going to their favorite spot. For example, it's not uncommon to see dogs do this on the bed they've slept on for years! So what gives?

Passed-on Quirk

In most cases, it's a passed-on quirk. Your dog might be running on instinct to scope the place out and check for danger.

Think of it as a child looking under the bed for monsters. Fido is doing its due diligence to ensure it's safe enough to relax.

Boredom, Smells, and All the Little Things

In addition to circling when pooping or lying down, dogs often exhibit this behavior randomly whenever they're bored. In this case, it's a little thing to create fun and excitement during the day!

Your dog is probably cooped up several hours a day, so they must find ways to have fun without you.

Circling helps get rid of some pent-up energy without going crazy. It keeps the mind occupied without resorting to aggression or destruction. Count that as a win!

Sometimes, the smell of its own rear end piques its interest. Circling lets your dog walk directly in the path of its own stench! It's a weird behavior, but it's one that dogs do more often than you realize.

Related: Dog Refuses to Lay Down

Circling: When You Should Be Concerned

Unfortunately, walking in circles could be a symptom of something more nefarious with your dog's health. There are many reasons why this behavior happens.

This information isn't meant to scare you. Keep in mind that these problems are rare. But you can keep them in mind and use other symptoms to determine if medical care is necessary.

Leg, Hip, and Joint Issues

Is your dog on the older side? If so, joint pain could be what's causing your dog to circle. This is common with canines dealing with arthritis, hip dysplasia, and other joint conditions.

The pain gets so bad that your dog has difficulty getting up and sitting. They may do OK once settled, but the change in position causes the most pain.

Dogs will circle as a way to hype themselves up. They may also use that time to try and figure out the best and least painful approach.

Ear Problems

Ear problems are surprisingly common. Infections occur when moisture gets trapped in there. It can be a reoccurring issue for dogs with large, floppy ears.

The problem with ear infections is that they can quickly become worse. Use the circling as a sign to get treatment.

Dogs will talk in circles because the pain and discomfort are focusing their attention on one side of their body.

Your dog could also suffer from vestibular syndrome. This condition affects the inner ear, resulting in significant balance problems. In addition to walking in circles, dogs can frequently fall.

Related: Possible Reasons for Smelly Dog Ears

Neurological Conditions

No dog owner wants to think of neurological problems plaguing their canine companion. Unfortunately, walking in circles is a common symptom of many conditions.

Some of the most common are distemper, Neosporosis, and Systematic Lupus Erythematosus.

The latter is a genetic condition in breeds like the German Shephard, Poodle, Beagle, and more.

Brain Injury or Disease

Brain issues can cause your dog to exhibit many problematic behaviors.

Walking in circles is just one example. This activity can be a symptom of damage caused by a stroke, brain inflammation, a tumor, and swelling due to fluid build-up.

Mental issues

Does your dog seem fine health-wise? It could be a mental problem that's causing the walk in circles. Dogs can experience stress, anxiety, and depression just like humans.

When they do, their behavior changes dramatically. They might become more withdrawn and lethargic, spending their time walking in circles instead of doing anything enjoyable.

It's a coping mechanism dogs use to find solace when feeling down.

Vision Problems

Vision problems can be to blame, too.

Circling is common when dogs struggle to get around without bumping into things. It's their way of being extra cautious and ensuring that nothing is nearby.

In addition to circling, you might see your dog swaying back and forth, catch them running into objects in the house, and more.

Related: How to Tell if your Dog is Going Blind

Should You Do Something About Your Dog Walking in Circles?

Whether or not you should take action depends on what the cause is. Pay close attention to your dog's behavior. No one knows your pooch as you do. If this circle walking comes out of nowhere, go to your vet.

They can perform the necessary tests, rule out medical conditions, and provide a proper diagnosis. A vet may also offer treatment to address whatever ails your dog, putting an end to the scary issue.

Of course, dogs also circle naturally out of pure instinct! When they're pooping or lying down, it's usually innocent enough and doesn't need to create panic.

Look out for any additional symptoms. If your furry friend is otherwise fine, that circling is probably nothing more than your dog being a dog!

Also read: Why a Dog Sometimes Walks And Poops At the Same Time


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About the author 


Steve is a writer with over 10 years of experience in dog training and nutritiion.

His goal is to educate dog owners about the ins and outs of canine behavior as well as keeping up with the latest scientific research in the field.