Stewie, a dog at Second Chance Humane Society, is ready for his forever home. (Courtesy photo)

Recently I heard someone say that the reason dogs turn in circles before lying down is to wind the biological clock down. From a figurative translation it sort of makes sense. Read on as I help you make sense of your dog’s mysterious pre-sleeping routines.

Do you have a sleeping ritual before bed time — wash your face, brush your teeth, use the white porcelain drinking bowl, turn back your blankets, turn out the lights kind of thing? What happens when you forget to do a part of your ritual? Can you fall asleep or do you lie there repetitively thinking about it until you get up and do it?

Although your dog’s pre-napping circling is partially a comforting routine behavior, there is more to it. Dogs like routine as much as humans do but many of our observable quirks are rooted in instinct. Bed spinning is a routine done as much for safety as for comfort.

Back in the day before little doggie thermopedic memory foam beds covered with plush organic cotton were around, my ancestors actually lay upon the ground. This circling behavior developed to create sufficient disturbance of the high grasses or leaves to drive out any creatures that may be hiding there, such as the odd snake, rodent or insect. I really don’t like snakes so I think this was very smart.

Bedding-circling serves as an additional security measure, too. Since our paws aren’t good at sewing labels on our things they have scent glands. Our spinning is a way to leave our scent, telling other sleepy animals to go make their own beds elsewhere.

Similarly, when dogs scratch upon the carpet, tile or hardwood it is not so you will have to replace the carpet or buff out claw marks but it is another inherited trait, particularly to terriers and hounds that dig or burrow. If your dog starts displaying this behavior they are telling you that their fundamental nature is being denied by too much indoor time. Increase your dog’s outdoor time and save your floors.

Light digging of bedding before snoozing is another pre-sleep habit that some dogs do that can be instinctual but also serves as temperature control. My ancestors discovered that digging nests exposes a greater surface area of our bodies to cool earth. In cold weather, curling up in a self-fashioned blanket pit helps to concentrate available body heat.

Dogs are just as much creatures of habit as people are. Your dogs probably each have their own rehearsed patterns of bedding preparation: scratch, dig, circle, lay down, get up, dig, circle, scratch … rest. You should join them sometime; you’ll sleep like a baby!


My name is Stewie, and I am a sweet fluffy homeless guy with a bright smile and eyes to match! Since arriving at Second Chance, I have discovered a love of water, people and being outside, so I hope my new family likes these things, too. I think I will do best in a home without cats, and, yes, a nice soft bed that I can spin around in would be lovely. Come meet my handsome self today!

Second Chance Humane Society’s Animal Resource Center and Thrift Shops have been servicing San Miguel, Ouray and Montrose counties for 27 years. Call 970-626-2273 to report a lost pet, learn about adopting a homeless pet, or about our Emergency Response, Community Medical, Spay/Neuter, Volunteer or other services. View our shelter pets and services online at