|Why do dogs go around in circles before they go
to the bathroom?
|Question Date: 2006-08-24|
That's a great question. I've often been curious
myself about why dogs exhibit this strange
behavior of circling before going to the bathroom.
I've been able to find a couple of explanations
that make some sense, but I haven't been able to
consult an animal behavior expert about this yet,
so there may be other more reasonable
One of the explanations I
read is that dogs may circle their chosen bathroom
site as a way to stomp down grass and weeds in
order to have a place to poop. One person
suggested that originally, wild dog ancestors may
have lived in areas with long or tall vegetation
and they developed this instinctual behavior to
maintain their hygiene (cleanliness) while
Another explanation I
read is that since dogs are vulnerable to attack
by predators or other dogs while squatting, they
may circle in order to be able to spot any
potential threats and make sure their "toilet" is
safe and secure before going to the bathroom. If
they find a threat, such as a predator lurking
nearby, they may leave to a safer location before
going to the bathroom.
Most animals (except humans) use excretory
products (urine, feces) as chemical signaling.
They "mark" their territory this way. Dogs sniff
to find out who else has marked the territory,
Not all dogs circle before defecating (the science
word for "going #2") but many do. There are some
good reasons for it. First, walking helps waste
to move down the gut.
Second, dogs use
body wastes to communicate with each other.
Leaving urine or feces in a spot is like leaving a
business card. It says who passed there, when
they were there, and probably tells how they were
doing. Trampling down the grass first makes the
"business card" easy to see in case the other dog
is upwind. Dogs also have scent glands on their
feet. Often dogs scratch up the ground around
their deposit, adding more scent and sight to the
signal. Dogs also have glands near the anus that
add more scent. (If you see a dog scooting its
back end along the floor, its anal glands are
So circling is probably
mostly about leaving as much signal as possible.
Dogs also roll in smelly things. Why do you think
they do that?
Dogs are intelligent animals, just like people.
And just like people, they don't like to go to the
bathroom just anywhere- they usually want
somewhere that is clean, where they won't be
disturbed, and that is appropriate. So dogs
circle to find a clean spot, or to tramp down long
grasses so that they'll be undisturbed, or to make
sure they are going to the bathroom in a spot free
from predators (imagine walking into your bathroom
and having a snake jump out at you-- dogs want to
be careful). By circling and inspecting their
environment, dogs make the area comfortable and
safe for them to go to the bathroom.
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