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Why Does My Dog Walk In Circles

You don’t need to be a veterinary professional to know that dogs always walk around in a few circles before laying down, especially after walking for a while. Dogs usually circle a couple times before laying down or before using the doggy bathroom out in the yard, but that’s usually it. If your dog has a habit of constantly walking in circles, like other pet parents you might want to visit the vet to check up on your dog’s health. Only a veterinarian can tell you if your dog has some sort of canine cognitive dysfunction, obsessive compulsive disorder, dog dementia, or a potentially deadly disease.

We don’t want to scare you though! Circling behavior in dogs is an ancestral trait, after all. Dogs would walk around in the while and engage in circling behavior to make a little nest, warning other dogs and making themselves a comfortable bed. So you can’t blame a dog’s tight circling before bedtime as anything but a routine thousands of years in the making. It’s completely harmless 99.9% of the time.

However- there are some things to be mindful of if your dog ends up tail chasing non-stock or simply won’t stop circling. Let’s get into some of the issues that might cause your dog to walk in circles a lot. We’ll break down what type of behavior is normal and what type of behavior should have you making an appointment with your veterinarian to rule out possible medical conditions.

What's Normal and What's Abnormal?

People who study dogs’ behavior say that it’s an ancestral trait handed down to our pups from their wolf lineage that causes dogs to circle before laying down. It’s quite literally a genetic trait. And guess what? It’s part of your dog’s survival instinct.

From German Shepherd to Shih Tzu, all dogs circle a bit to survey their surroundings before having a snooze.

Your dog is genetically programmed to position themselves in order to fend off attack, and circling lets your dog survey their surroundings for predators before resting. Additionally, wolves circle in order to mat down grass and make themselves a comfortable spot, and that leftover trait could have a hand in your dog walking in circles too. Circling a few times is hard-wired into your dog’s survival instincts for these reasons, so it’s completely normal behavior for your dog to circle the bed/couch/floor a few times before settling down for a while. 

If your dog is constantly walking in circles and not laying down after a few spins, there may be cause for concern. Several health issues can cause dogs to walk in circles regularly, the most common being some sort of inner ear infection. Let’s get into the most common health issues that can cause your dog to walk in circles a lot.

Inner Ear Infection

You dog’s ears, if not cleaned regularly, will invite ear infections! An inner ear infection will cause you dog’s balance to be off, which is one of the most common reasons why dogs walk in circles. Usually an inner ear infection comes along with ear scratching and head shaking, so keep an eye out for that behavior as well. Your dog’s body language will be able to give you a good hint if your dog has an ear issue. Get medical attention for your dog immediately if you nothing these things This is something you should NOT wait to treat. Inner ear infections need to be treated right away (don’t look for any other signs), or else they can cause serious issues down the line as the infection spreads. Permanent ear damage is a definite if you don’t get your dog immediate veterinary care after discovering an ear infection. Luckily, they are pretty easy to treat with the help of your vet. Usually some cleaning and a prescription is all it takes to  get your dog back on the straight and narrow- literally!  

Age-Related Vestibular Syndrome

Older dogs often get a condition called Age-Related Vestibular Syndrome or Vestibular Disease. This is a neurological disease that some dog breeds are genetically predisposed to this condition- the underlying cause hasn’t been pin-pointed yet. This is one of a few canine neurological problems that affects the inner ear, and therefore affects your dog’s balance. Veterinarians and researchers still don’t know the exact cause, but this disease almost always occurs in elderly dogs. If your dog is walking in circles and that behavior is accompanied by your dog falling down, drooling, or vomiting, then it’s time to a trip to the vet ASAP. The symptoms of vestibular syndrome are darn close to the symptoms of a stroke, so better safe than sorry. 


Injuries, especially head trauma or head injuries, can really damage the doggy brain. Head injuries and spinal cord injuries are often the cause for dogs walking in circles. Some behavior you should keep an eye out for is your dog whining, loss of appetite, behavioral changes, and strange pupil dilation. Excessive thirst is a rare side effect of a bad head injury, but dogs can sometimes vomit afterwards. Excessive drooling, beyond what is expected from your breed, is another thing to watch out for if you’re evaluating your dog for a head injury. These are signs of a recent head injury, and if you observe these signs in your dog then you should take an emergency trip to the vet for immediate treatment. And remember, older dogs are usually at a higher risk of head injury.

A quick add-on: nutritional deficiency can definitely end up making an older dog super injury-prone. If you have senior dogs, always make sure that you give them proper physical stimulation, but don’t force them to climb stairs when it’s clearly painful for their arthritic legs. Pet care starts at compassion! If you spot your dog walking in circles a bit too much, think about it for a little while.

Stress & Anxiety

If your dog is constantly walking in circles but isn’t exhibiting any other out-of-the-ordinary behavior, then it might be that your dog is stressed out. Don’t worry! It’s probably not your fault that your dog is stressed. You can talk to your vet about medication or seeing a behavior specialist about dealing with your dog’s stress and anxiety. For some anxious dogs, proper treatment can often end up being some of the same prescriptions humans take! It can also end up being something like house training- puppies can get extremely stressed out when they are undergoing house training. Just make sure to engage in positive reinforcement instead of interacting abnormally or getting frustrated when your little puppy has an accident.

Now these are not the only health issues that can cause your dog to walk in circles, only the most common. If you are concerned at all about your dog walking in circles, make a visit to the vet!

Quick Home Assessment For Your Dog Walking In Circles

If you think that your dog has a health issue that is causing them to walk in circles, here’s what you can do to determine if it’s time for a trip to the vet:

First: Try to get your dog to move in the opposite direction that they are spinning. If your dog is suffering from a neurological issue, or even canine dementia, they will be unable to. 

Second: Look at your dog’s eyes. If they can’t focus, or their pupils are dilating randomly, or very dilated, then your dog could have a brain injury.

Third: If your dog is showing signs of an ear infection or there is any problem with your dog’s eyes, it’s time to visit the vet ASAP. If everything else is normal but your dog is still walking in circles a lot, then it is likely a behavioral issue.

Final Thoughts About Dogs Walking In Circles

This can be a tough issue to sort out since dogs are genetically disposed to walk in circles a few times before they settle down. But if your dog walks in circles a lot, then identifying a health issue will require you to keep a keen eye on what other behavior your dog exhibits. And always remember: When in doubt, visit your vet! A little blood work and visit to the vet could save your dog’s life!

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Kevin F.

Hey guys! I'm Kevin and I'm the Founder of My Dog Reviews. I made this site to share my very own dog's reviews of food, treats, toys, and more. I also have become fascinated with dog breeds and I'm sharing my knowledge with the world. Have a breed, treat, or something you want me to write about? Just let me know!

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