Why Does My Dog Circle Around Before Peeing Or Pooping?

helloBARK!
By helloBARK!
Updated on 22 April 2021
Expert Content

Does your dog go round in circles before deciding to do their business?

My female Alaskan Klee Kai will spend what feels like five or ten minutes spinning around before she finally settles on her preferred spot.

While this scooting around in circles is something of a breed trait, it’s quite a common behavior across all dog breeds and mixes.

In a bid to understand the reasons behind this peculiar behavior, we spoke to five experts to learn more.

We’ll hear from veterinarians, dog behaviorists, doggy daycare managers and licensed vet techs in our quest to get an answer for why dogs circle around before peeing or pooping.

Tied To Magnetic Strength

Amber LaRock, Licensed Vet Tech And Veterinary Consultant at
CatPet.club

There are a few possible reasons why our canine friends will spin in circles before doing their business. We can’t know for sure what is on a dog’s mind, but many canine behaviorists have come up with a few theories.

First, come experts believe that dogs may spin in circles in effort to trample the grass around them. This may make it easier for the dog to go potty on a flatter surface, without the chance of getting any waste on them.

The next possibility is that dogs are scanning the area for any potential threats. Things like snakes and other small animals can wait in the grass, sneaking up on a dog when they least expect it.

The last possibility, and possibly the most interesting, is the potential for dogs to enjoy facing certain directions when they go potty.

Recent studies have shown that a dog is more likely to face either North or South when doing their business. Some believe this is tied to the magnetic strength in certain areas, but research is still ongoing.

Stamping Down Grass

Sherry Morgan, Founder Of Petsolino

When we take our dogs out for a walk and suddenly stop to “go number 1 or number 2”, you might notice they always do something weird; Spin around in a circle before they pee or poop. I often find this strangely funny, but our dogs have some good reasons for this quirky behavior.

They could be stamping down the grass around them. Our dog isn’t just going number 1 or 2 to relieve themselves, they are also marking their territory. And if they’re going in the grass, their smell might not carry as far because the grass could be blocking the wind that carries their scent.

So what they do is to take a few extra steps around their chosen spot to push down the grass. That way their scent will be carried as far as possible so other dogs will know they were there. Plus, it is a little cleaner and comfortable for them that way. Pretty cool, right?

But that’s not the only thing that’s going through our dog’s mind when they’re doing their business, they also spin around a few times to check for predators or threats since they will be in a vulnerable state for a few seconds. So they might do a few quick circling just to make sure there’s nothing around them that could possibly harm them. That way, they can do their business in peace and know they will be safe for those moments.

Now, this last reason why our dog’s spin in circles might be a little surprising. They are aligning their internal compass to face a certain direction. Yep, believe it or not our dogs prefer a certain direction when they go and have the ability to sense whether they’re aligned north to south or east to west. During a webinar for shelter volunteers a few years back, a group of researchers studied the bathroom habits of about 70 dogs for two entire years and what they discovered was that dogs typically prefer a north to south alignment when they go number 2. Moreover, facing the same direction when they go might help them find other places they’ve marked in the past.

Now, no matter which of these three things your dog is thinking about when they go to the bathroom, there’s one thing you can take away from all of this. Be patient with your dog’s when they’re doing their business. It’s a process for them and they have reasons for doing what they do so let them follow their natural instincts.

Jack Russell Terrier going potty (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Jack Russell Terrier going potty (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Helps Movement Of Materials Through Bowels

Jen Clifford, BA In Animal Behavior, Former Doggy Daycare Manager, Certified Veterinary Technician, Writer At Five Barks

Watching a picky pooch meander in loops in search of the perfect potty spot can drive you crazy, but there’s more to this behavior than you might think. There’s actually several things going on when your puppy or dog is preparing to relieve themselves (assuming the situation isn’t an urgent matter). Once you know what to look for, you can actually learn to predict what your pooch is about to do in time to intervene, if necessary!

To understand why your puppy or dog often wanders in circles before peeing or pooping, we need to describe what’s happening during the typical potty sequence, and it all starts with the sniffing stage. As social animals, dogs excrete many pheromones in their urine and poop that other animals can sniff out and “read,” almost like leaving a note on a neighborhood bulletin board. Before your dog is ready to deposit their “message,” they’ll use their nose to get the lay of the land, and they often wander from scent to scent as they do so. So one reason you’ll see your dog circling around before they go potty is because they’re “reading” interesting scents!

When your pup smells the message left by another animal, it usually prompts them to leave one in return, either through marking the spot (peeing or pooping directly on the object that was scent-marked by the other animal) or by going potty nearby, almost like leaving a note that says “Buster was here!” Veterinary technicians like myself take advantage of this normal canine behavior in-clinic when we need to collect urine or fecal samples, and most vet hospitals have a scent-rich communal potty yard we use to inspire dogs into making a liquid or solid donation!

But there’s another reason for this circling potty-walk behavior, and it’s not just a way for your dog to torture you in the wintertime. Most healthy dogs can urinate or pee nearly on command with just a little “inspiration,” as long as there’s anything left in their bladder. But nearly all dogs need to walk at least a few feet before they can defecate or poop, and some need to circle for what seems forever. So what’s going on here?

If you look closely at your dog as they sniff and prepare to poop, you’ll notice how relaxed they are compared to a dog that’s hunting a hot scent. They walk slowly and move their hips loosely from side to side, and puppies often sway in an exaggerated fashion as they circle. It can almost look like they’re slowly wagging their tail by swaying their hips and rear legs.

This funny-looking, rambling gait actually helps your dog’s digestion and the movement of material through their intestines and colon. The swaying and turning in sharp circles cause their abdominal muscles to contract and release, pushing the fecal matter towards their anus, where it can be pooped out!

In fact, the term potty walk is quite apt! The acts of standing and walking are very important for healthy canine gut motility, which is the complex process that pushes food, and eventually poop, through the digestive tract. When a dog loses their mobility through an injury or chronic problem like arthritis, they often develop problems with constipation, since their digestive tract moves slower with less activity. As a veterinary technician, one of my responsibilities was to get dogs up and walking after surgery to help restore movement to their digestive tracts (which also slows while a dog is under anesthesia).

If your dog wanders in endless circles instead of going potty, it could be that they’re just not ready to go, but it can also be an indication that they’re having digestive problems. Oftentimes, you can promote defecation in a slow-pooper by having them walk for a while longer before they’re allowed to sniff and circle. When you see your new puppy wandering in those loose, lazy circles with their nose down, though, you can be pretty sure they’re preparing to leave you a solid or liquid gift!

Makes Peeing And Pooping Easier

Dr Sara Ochoa, Veterinary Consultant At Dog Lab

Many dogs will circle trying to get into the correct position when peeing and pooping.

Circling also helps increase GI motility and makes it easier for them to poop.

I find that smaller dogs tend to circle more right before peeing and pooping to help them be able to poop or pee easier.

Man cleaning up dog droppings (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Man cleaning up dog droppings (Photo: Adobe Stock)

Finding A Safe Spot

Rich Duda, Founder Of Dog Care Authority

Whenever my dog feels the need to pee, she has an instinct to circle around the spot and circle back to the same spot 2-3 times, before she’ll let herself do it. They want to be comfortable and make sure it’s a safe spot.

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