You may have noticed your pet dog perform a weird ritual before going to bed. Dogs, unlike us, don’t just get into bed and fall asleep. They spend a significant amount of time preparing in various ways before finally settling in for the night.
A lot of sleepy dogs do a funky thing where they go in small circles and perform a sort of a unique dance before they go to sleep. In some dogs, this bedtime ritual can be compulsive. Oftentimes, a dog cannot sleep well enough if they miss out on these unique bedtime rituals.
Evolutionary Reasons For Circling Among Dogs
A lot of studies by dog behaviorists have shown that this need for dogs to go around in circles or perform a bedtime ritual involving turning around is inherited from ancient ancestors. Canine ancestors have been known to do similar things and it is possible that dogs have simply inherited this genetic predisposition.
Behavioral patterns like this are widely researched among evolutionary scientists and are generally aimed at self-preservation. These are really strong influences that are passed down across several generations till they become a part of their genetic codification.
Dogs in the wild know that they need to position themselves in a certain way in case they have to ward off an attack in the dead of the night. However, why do domestic dogs exhibit this kind of act of self-preservation?
Most of them sleep in the safety of their homes away from the dangers of the wild and have no apparent reason for performing these rituals before going to sleep. However, these evolutionary traits aimed at protecting oneself are inherited by our present-day domestic dogs which is why they feel compelled to circle before snuggling in for the night.
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There is another evolutionary explanation at work here. Wild canids like foxes, wolves, or coyotes generally travel in packs of many members. The entire group protects itself by protecting one another and keeping on a constant lookout for stragglers. Turning around is a way for group leaders to assess the environment, keep a check on all the members of the group, and check if any member has fallen behind. It provides one last chance to take stock of one’s surroundings before going to sleep, again making this bedtime rotation ritual an act of self-protection.
Circling Also Helps Wild Dogs Get Comfortable
While you may spoil your pooch with expensive, custom-made dog beds, dogs in the wild do not have that luxury and have to make their own beds in nature. To make a comfortable sleeping situation, they pat down tall leaves and grasses following which they remove the prickly undergrowth and sticks before lying down. They also root out rocks and broken branches in this process.
In colder countries, dogs have to circle to reposition the snowbanks
The process of “nesting” also helps in uncovering snakes and insects that could potentially harm the dog. Additionally, changing the layout of an area by way of moving the leaves and grass is also a good way of communicating to other wild animals or dogs that the spot is taken for the night.
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Circling Aids In Temperature Control
Dogs in the wild are often required to survive extremes of temperature conditions. They have no control over the weather and have to adapt to hostile weather conditions almost every other night. That is why they deal with this situation by what is known as “denning” to make the temperature of their sleeping quarters warmer.
Dogs in warmer climates tend to scratch at the ground to remove the topsoil and grass that has retained and is radiating the heat of the sun. Doing so exposes the cooler layer of soil underneath which is a lot more comfortable to sleep on. Scratching and turning allow dogs to create a more comfortable sleeping situation for themselves by finding a more suitable temperature.
Wild canids in colder countries often circle to be able to wind themselves into tight balls in order to preserve their personal body heat for protection against the biting cold. Other pack members also gather together in a tight circle to share in each other’s body heat. Thus we see that this seemingly meaningless bedtime ritual also has a biological basis.
Is It Okay For Domestic Dogs To Circle Before Sleep?
Domestic dogs live in protected environments where they neither have to ward off predators in the middle of the night nor do they have to adapt to extreme temperatures in the comfort of a home.
Why is it that these dogs also engage in such quirky bedtime rituals before going to sleep?
Well, the desire for comfort is innate, be it among wild dogs or domestic ones. It is possible that this circling ritual is just a way of getting their beds to feel more suitable for them. However, more often than not, these rituals are not simply about comfort but have an underlying biological or genetic explanation as the ones mentioned before.
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