This Is Why Dogs Turn In Circles Before Lying Down

If you've ever watched a dog prepare to take a nap, you've probably noticed that they often display an odd behavior. Most dogs like to spin in a circle once, twice, or maybe even three times before they curl into a sleeping, furry ball. It's a very cute ritual. But it's also pretty odd; imagine if humans circled their beds a few times before sleeping in them. What is it that compels dogs to do this?

Well, scientists aren't quite sure. There are a number of competing theories about why dogs circle before sleeping. The one thing that most scientists agree upon is that this circling is an age-old behavior which modern dogs inherited from their canine ancestors — probably as far back as wild wolves.

As VCA Animal Hospitals explains, dogs could be circling to take one last look around before they hit the sack. This final look could've helped wolves ensure that the entire pack was present and accounted for. Likewise, doing a final 360-degree visual sweep is a good idea if you want to make sure that there aren't any lurking predators who want to eat you while you sleep.

Live Science points out that circling doesn't just help dogs spot predators; it can also help them kick threats away. If there are any snakes around, for instance, doing a couple of spins before lying down could make them scurry off. Same goes for large insects, or any other creature that might interfere with restful sleep.

Circling is probably an ancient instinct based on forming a comfortable 'nest'

If you're looking for hard data to back up an explanation for the phenomenon, you might find this next theory more compelling.

As Live Science explains, a final theory to explain dogs' circling behavior is that circling helps dogs to form a "nest." That is, in the wild, spinning around a few times would help dogs flatten out tall grasses, kick away sticks and stones, and generally turn an uneven surface into a smoother, more comfy bed.

Psychologist Stanley Coren decided to test this theory, describing his findings in Psychology Today in 2016. For his test, Coren's team set up two pens: one with a smooth carpet and one with a lumpy carpet. One at a time, a total of 31 dogs were placed in the first pen, and 31 were placed in the second pen. Scientists watched each dog's behavior for 15 minutes. They observed that 19% of the dogs in the smoothly-carpeted pen did at least one spin before lying down, while 55% of the dogs in the lumpy pen did the same. This discrepancy suggests that circling is indeed a way for dogs to create more comfortable "nests" to sleep in.

Sure, most modern dogs already have comfortable beds, but their instincts don't know that. Maybe after a few thousand more years of sleeping on cushions, the instinct to circle before sleeping will be bred out of the species.