Why does my dog circles me? Why do dogs even run in circles?

Dogs are well known to exhibit strange behaviour that baffles us.

However, there is always a reason behind this that only the dog knows, which is frustrating for dog owners. In this, we take a look to help those wondering why their dog circles around them, almost obsessively. 

Before jumping into the potential causes of circling, there are certain questions you should ask yourself – 

  • Has your dog only recently started walking in circles?
  • Does your dog do any other action after walking in circles, such as emptying their bowels or bladder?
  • What is the age of your dog?
  • What about the quality of their diet?
  • Do they circle you by running, or is it a slow pace?
  • Does your dog exhibit any other signs of ill health alongside the circling?

Yes, all of this matters more than you think. Believe it or not, there’s a particular term for this kind of behaviour.

When a dog runs in circles, it’s called zoomies. The technical term for that is Frenetic Random Activity Periods (FRAPs).

Dogs generally run circles or “zoomies” around you for two major reasons. First, they’re excited to see and play with you. Second, they’re stressed, anxious, afraid or frustrated. It could be a medical emergency or just a stressful situation. Interact with your dog to determine.

Why do dogs run in circles?

1. They’re going to the toilet.

Some causes of strange behaviours, such as walking in circles, are innocent and completely normal. Dogs circling before having a poo or a wee is very common and should not cause alarm.

Of course, if they are circling you and then not emptying their bladder or bowels, this is not the cause.

Jeff doesn’t want to do his business just anywhere, and he will often circle me and spend a considerable amount of time finding the perfect spot. He has always done this, and we have no idea why.

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2. They’ve got the case of Zoomies!

If your dog is excited and circles you while running at full blast, then in our experience, it’s a sign of a dog who hasn’t been exercised enough and is now making the most of it.

As I said, dogs are energetic animals, and they WILL get rid of their excess energy one way or the other. Speaking from experience, if Jeff hasn’t been able to be off the lead and running, the first chance he gets in the park will bomb it around and circle us for a bit.

Not all breeds are going to be like this, some prefer a nice calm walk, but others love to run. If Jeff hasn’t had the chance to get his heart rate going for a few days and just kept on a short lead, then “zoomies” will happen.

Get the dog harness on and let them run wild from time to time to prevent this.

Read More: Best Dog Harnesses to Buy in 2022 in the UK

3. They have an inner ear infection.

In layman’s terms, their affected sense of balance results in this zoomie-like behaviour.

The system that helps our doggos maintain balance, the vestibular system, sits right inside the ear. An ear infection that has reached this far can cause a dog to be unbalanced and uncoordinated.

The infection could end up with your dog running around in circles but not always around you.

There are three kinds of ear infections – otitis externa, media, and internal. Generally speaking, an ear infection that can lead to circling needs to be severe enough to reach internally.

An inner ear infection is a serious condition and needs a veterinarian’s attention as soon as possible. Ear infection in a dog is usually unmistakable, as they will have crusty, red and sore ears on the outside and a strong smell of pus on the inside.

Check your dog’s ears for infection if they’ve recently started circling.

4. Vestibular syndrome is another possibility.

The vestibular syndrome is different from infection as it is a disease most commonly observed in older dogs. However, an ear infection can develop to become vestibular syndrome.

Along with circling, dogs can be observed knocking into objects and falling over easily as the disease completely disrupts their sense of coordination and balance. Head tilting, wobbling, strange facial expressions and your dog moving their eyes (see also our article on looking your dog in the eyes) randomly are also symptoms.

Other vestibular system causes could be a bad head injury from a fall or after being struck. Old dogs quite easily contract it.

It is important to think about any events which have led to your dog circling to determine a possible cause of circling you. Have they recently had a bad accident? Is their balance way off?

If so, don’t self-diagnose. Just take the dog to the vet (see also ‘How To Take An Aggressive Dog To The Vet‘) as diagnosing and treating the root cause may reverse the effects of the vestibular syndrome.

5. Head Injuries can cause such behaviour too.

Serious head injuries can cause a dog to become concussed and lose balance, among other symptoms. Other symptoms are vomiting, dilating pupils and a lack of appetite. If you know for sure, they’ve had a serious impact on their head. This is a probable cause of the circling.

Head injuries are pretty serious if they are not treated and given proper rest to recover, just as if a human gets it. Take them to the vet immediately.

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6. They have OCD.

While Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is quite rare in dogs, it could happen. And it’s no joke.

OCD manifests in dogs by exhibiting strange and repetitive behaviour such as walking in circles. When left with no attention, the behaviour can worsen and become chronic.

Obsessive-compulsive disorder is most common in rescue dogs and dogs who have experienced physical or mental trauma. Walking around in circles around you may be one symptom of many, alongside destructive chewing, digging or general uneven temper.

OCD is caused by stress and frustration, and the cause of stress may be related to the behaviour they’re exhibiting. However, the dangers of trying to diagnose OCD are that it looks just like a symptom with an underlying cause at its root.

OCD is difficult to cure, but the doggo can manage it by finding the root cause of stress in dogs and medication to prevent it from becoming a chronic obsessive-compulsive disorder.

Read More: Best Dog Treats to Buy for Your Doggo in 2022 in the UK

7. They have canine cognitive dysfunction.

Canine cognitive dysfunction is a symptom of canine dementia/Alzheimer’s, a disease that affects the memory of a dog and spatial awareness and coordination.

CCD can lead to a dog seeming listless who wanders around with seemingly no idea where they are going. This can manifest itself in circling their owner with no idea what to do other than continue the behaviour.

Although younger dogs can get canine cognitive dysfunction, it is significantly more common in older dogs.

Sadly, there are no cures for Alzheimer’s or dementia, and it will slowly take over your beloved friend. But, if diagnosed, a vet can prescribe certain medicines that can help the cognitive dysfunction to help the wandering and spatial awareness. 

If your dog starts to circle you, there’s no need to panic. In most cases, it’s a normal reaction and perhaps an obvious symptom for you to diagnose an underlying medical condition. Never try and medicate and always seek a vet’s final advice before attempting treatment.


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