Marne Botha asked:
Why do my doggies circle around before they lie down in their baskets?
Kat Arney put this question to ecologist Felicity Bedford...
Felicity - It’s actually something that is coming back from the time when they were wolves or wild dogs and they had to build a nest.
Chris - So it’s like the canine equivalent of pillow plumping - is that what you’re saying?
Felicity - Precisely. In the wild there would have been grass or snow, so they’re literally creating themselves a safe place to plonk down for the night. A lot of people might also notice that their dog tends to dig at their beds. So that might be creating a hollow and they will only settle down really once they’ve established their little routine. Instinct has been settled and they’ll go down for a nap.
Chris - One person said to me that it might be that also by turning circles it’s forcing them to survey the landscape and they might spot predators or areas that are risky. That something could come and attack them so it kind of makes sure they’re aware and vigilant.
Felicity - There’s probably something in that. It could be that the process of walking around scares off anything that might bite them - snakes, large insects in the undergrowth that they’re settling down in. There are so many reasons for this behaviour but back in ancestral genetics.
Chris - I don’t turn circles in my bed when I got to bed. I just sort of pat the pillow. Is that what you do, Matt?
Matt - No. But I’ve got to ask because Kat asked me. Did they all turn in the same direction?
Felicity - Mmm. Now there’s something that needs testing.
Chris - I don’t think they do because, unlike humans which are strongly biased to be right handed (90% of people are right handed, 10% left handed), in the animals world it seems to break down 50/50. They do have a side bias (one paw or fin they prefer using) but, on average, you get a 50/50 bias. The exception seems to be kangaroos which appear to be dominated by left hand use and we don’t really know why.
I think they do this to perform the canine equivalent of a pillow plumping. chris, Sat, 20th Feb 2016
Great answer chris, but I suspect it may also have something to do with them scanning the 360 degree area surrounding them and identifying any possible threats before their anticipated relaxation. Maybe they need assurance that during this period of rest, they are not making themselves vulnerable or putting themselves at greater risk. While the domestic dog has little to fear from the natural world, we need to remember that they are all born with instincts that are bred into them and some natural paranoia is part of their survival agenda. Ethos_, Sat, 20th Feb 2016
Excellent point and one I had overlooked. I'll certainly add that to my answer bank! chris, Thu, 25th Feb 2016
Thank you Chris, I appreciate the kind words of encouragement. Ethos_, Fri, 26th Feb 2016
While plausible my own - purely anecdotal - observation is that their attention is focused on the ground when performing this action. One would have expected an outward and upward looking gaze if the objective was security.
A very plausible explanation as well Ophiolite. Ethos_, Fri, 26th Feb 2016
I think we could all be right! On the whole, animals tend to "nest" in a situation that offers them an escape route and the widest view of the possible approach of predators or threats. chris, Fri, 26th Feb 2016
Now that you have mentioned it, I notice I have started to circle too. Prester, Sat, 27th Feb 2016
What does your bed fellow make of that? chris, Sun, 28th Feb 2016
The dog circles to flatten the grasses where it is about to lie. quandry, Tue, 1st Mar 2016
If you ever watched a dog sleeping in the cold, they will ball up in a circle to conserve body heat. Another possible answer is as they circle, they spiral downward into their resting circle, with little waste of motion. This action may also adjust the sleeping surface to allow the best insulation R-value.
Hmmm.... at 57, I've owned more than a few dogs now. Looking at the thread, it all sounds perfectly sensible at first, but upon closer examination, it's becomes much, much more complicated than simply scanning the horizon for potential threats prior to settling down for an extended period of slumber or any mere "pillow plumping" as Chris suggested. If we look at the behaviour closely, we actually have examples of at least four distinct manifestations of it (circling)....
It's a good idea to check for snakes and scorpions before lying down. Once you are on the deck, they will avoid you, but if you just flop down on top of them, they get very upset. alancalverd, Fri, 4th Mar 2016
Hi, this is something that has fascinated me for some time and think I may have something interesting to contribute to the discussion so I'm going to throw you all a bone! Yes, pun most intended!
Pertinent and interesting comments, Metamind, as were those of Aemilius. Together they highlight the danger of running with the conventional, or common sense explanation and emphasising that science is about observation and experiment.
There's no doubt that many if not all animals, including humans (well, students) can sense the earth's magnetic field, but a lifetime spent with Dandy, Sally, Lucy, Ice, Sophie, Poppy and Chilli (not all at once) has convinced me that dogs will crap in any direction but prefer not to have the sun in their eyes or the wind behind them, so British dogs at least are most likely to poo on a northwesterly heading. alancalverd, Sat, 5th Mar 2016