By Linda Cole
My first dog, Jack, was an American Eskimo. When he started to get older, I adopted an American Eskimo puppy named Kirby. My mom had an American Eskimo named Heidi. When our dogs were together and we took them outside to do their business, we always enjoyed a ritual they all engaged in. They would spread out and Jack would circle one way, Kirby circled the other way and Heidi matched one of them. They always started to circle at the same time, circled for about a minute and then stopped at the exact same time to do what they needed to do. It was like watching a choreographed dance routine. They also circled before lying down.
Circling is a common practice most dogs do at one time or another. Going around and around before doing their business is one example; however, not all dogs do this. A curious or concerned dog will circle an area to check for the scent of another dog. A dog’s nose is always on guard for scents he needs to pay attention to. Few dogs can resist checking out another dog’s calling card.
No one knows for sure why dogs circle, but scientists believe it’s a hard wired behavior that goes back to before we domesticated dogs. In the wild, there are no doggie beds with soft cushions. Wild dogs had to make their bed wherever they could find a suitable location, and sometimes it was in grassy/weedy areas. Most likely, circling is an instinctive behavior, and a dog circles to flatten the area where he intends to bed down to make it more comfortable.
Another behavior dogs do prior to circling or while in the process of going around and around is to stop every now and then and scratch at the floor or carpet. A couple of my dogs really get into pawing at the carpet, and at times they act like they’re trying to dig through the floor. This is another instinctive behavior used to scrape away rocks, twigs, pebbles and other debris from a resting site. Scraping or digging at the ground was also a way to even it out, making the bed more comfortable. Even dogs in the wild appreciate a comfortable place to sleep. In colder climates when dogs had to deal with snow and wind, digging down into the snow and circling to pack it down made for a warmer bed. Digging a small impression in the ground to reach cooler dirt made a cooler bed in the summer.