Why do Dogs Turn Around Three Times Before Lying Down?

Michael Pollick

There are actually a few theories on why dogs turn around three times before sleeping, including genetics, instinct, and general comfort. Like many other domesticated animals, dogs still retain many of the traits found in their undomesticated ancestors. In fact, modern dogs are believe to be 99% identical genetically to their common ancestor, the wild wolf. Wolves living in packs exhibit many of the same behaviors observed by owners of domestic dogs.

Dog sleeping while curled up.
Dog sleeping while curled up.

One reason dogs turn around three times before bedding down is because that's what feels right instinctively. Ancestral wolves traveled in packs for a number of reasons, primarily to hunt animals larger than any one wolf could kill on his own. When pack animals lie down to rest, they instinctively form a tight circle to take advantage of their neighbor's body heat. Perhaps dogs perform a similar action today because the practice has become ingrained after thousands of years. When wild packs of dogs do this in the wild, they may be establishing their territory and orienting themselves within the circle.

Beagle laying on the grass.
Beagle laying on the grass.

Another reason some experts believe dogs walk around before lying down is to trample down the area for comfort. A pack of wild dogs may decide to bed down on a grassy field, for instance, so the individual dogs turn around to force the tall grasses down. This may also expose any hazards or obstructions. This trampling behavior is often observed in domesticated dogs who use padded dog beds or sleep outdoors routinely.

A dog turning around.
A dog turning around.

Some suggest that the action is performed for a different form of comfort. Wolves have been observed digging up the ground as they prepare their bedding sites in the wild. This behavior is more often observed during hot weather, so some have theorized that the wolves are exposing a cooler layer of dirt to gain relief from the heat. Domestic dogs, especially larger breeds kept outdoors, may also be duplicating this behavior in an effort to cool down during hot weather.

The reason dogs turn around three time before lying down may be linked to their ancestors, the wolf.
The reason dogs turn around three time before lying down may be linked to their ancestors, the wolf.

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Discussion Comments


My dog spins around because I believe he is drunk.


@anon993009: He didn't say that is the answer cast in stone. He did state that some of what people say is why they do it, and there are so many theories to this.


They always turn around clockwise. Bet y'all never noticed that, and it has not been mentioned here.


Truth is, it is probably some of all of the above. And as for the person who thinks a dog does not like wind in his nose, we are talking a light breeze in his direction. A dog can smell thinks a mile or more away up wind. However, anywhere a dog lies down he will have an upwind side and a downwind side, as well as two crosswind sides. Most of the time they probably lie with the nose high but watching downwind so that they can see what they can't smell and the smell what they can't see.

As for the lady with the uncomfortable dog. It just needs to be comfortable with the "new interloper". If they had truly grown up together past puppyhood (remember a 1 year old dog is still just a 7 year old person) the memory of her would be better, but the puppy probably just thought she died and this is a new person. Spend time with the new person showing the dog love and the new person love. The dog will get it, but for now is uncomfortable with the situation - temporarily.


They are locating themselves by the magnetic fields of the earth.


It has nothing to do with trampling around anything; they are smelling the area to make sure it's safe and kosher to sleep. (If your dog is not Jewish, they make sure that the area is secure). The guy with the wind got it wrong: dogs hate wind going up their nostrils (ever blown in your dog's snout?) and would not be able to sleep facing wind!

As for the asker about Bear German Shepherd mix and the 14 year old, have you considered he's fallen into a bad crowd and started drugging? Dogs sniff that.


My 14 year old helped raise Bear, our German Shepherd. She had to leave for a few months and Bear is only a year old and has turned to growling at her. They were so close. What do you think happened to their bond? Please help me figure it out.


I asked my dad this question a long time ago. He used to breed dogs so I trust his answer. He had said that wild dogs do this to determine the direction of wind and make sure that their nose is facing the wind when lying down. Apparently, if there was any incoming danger, like a predator, they could smell the predator and move.

As for why domesticated indoor dogs do it, it's just a habit left over from their ancestors as the article said.


Could it be possible that the dog is checking the temperature of the area they're about to sit on? Dogs can feel temperatures very well with their paws.


I have both cats and dogs and they all exhibit this behavior.

My theory is that going around helps them sit in the circular shape that they feel comfortable in. I also think that this circular shape keeps them warm because they are taking advantage of their own body heat. They're sort of hugging themselves. The circling around is simply to make it easier to sit in this position.


My dog used to always spin around before he would lie down to sleep. Now he doesn't do it any more.

Does this tell me something about my dog's health? Should I take him to the vet. He seems fine otherwise but it still seems strange.


I used to have a dog that would spin around 4, 5, sometimes even 6 times before it would lie down. It was the weirdest thing you have ever seen but the dog was consistent about it. Every time it would lie down it would spin around.


Dogs tend to trample around in bed before they put themselves in order to check that there are no snakes that they might lie down on. Sometimes they get a little sloppy with this control, it may be good to put the little harmless snakes or mechanical rubber sausages and in this way to remind them they walked around in bed before for safety's sake. Especially good if you have dogs that have their beds out there occasionally.


Interesting, thanks. I have one dog (I've got two, actually) but the big younger one who is a chow/lab mix will sometimes circle on my bed, where he sleeps with me, upwards of six to eight times. It's kind of funny. I've had dogs all my life and never seen one do it to this extent. He seems very intent on getting as compact as possible, and then just plops down.


@afterall, Humans also tend to pat down our beds before sleep, even if they don't need it; at least, I do pretty often. We all have our habits, whether it is rearranging our pillows just so, curling into a particular position, sleeping facing the door, or whatever. We are not really very different from dogs and wolves in this regard.


Cats also like to turn around, though not necessarily three times. I think both of these theories probably have some weight, because they both make a lot of sense. When human beings lie down, we also tend to look, though again not quite so methodically; however, as anyone who has ever been startled awake knows, humans do take a very specific approach to waking in that situation. Many of us would likely sit up straight, but not stand, and look all around us hurriedly once and then more slowly again. Like the dogs, it relates to our need to know what the threat might be and if there are more coming.

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