Why do dogs circle before they sit down?

A number of years ago (more than I care to remember) I read a similar question in a newspaper Q&A column. The response was that in the wild, a dog will try to settle down with its nose into the wind. Hence the circling.

Not having been enlightened by Cecil at the time (indeed, this was long before Cecil deigned to share his wisdom with us), I accepted that explanation as plausible. Now, I wonder how I could have been so gullible (since the wind is notoriously changeable). Still, I present it for what it’s worth (which ain’t much, but at least it gives me an excuse to post something).

To pat the grass down to make a bed.

If no grass, then its just a habit and not all of them do it either.

Handy, this is an area for COMMENTS about the Mailbag Questions. The Mailbag Question was: Why do dogs circle before they sit down? We answered this. The spot here is for comments about that answer. Got it?

Go to the Archives, check the Mailbag. Then come back here an comment. The link: http://www.straightdope.com/mailbag/mdogscircle.html

The other forum is called “General Questions”, that’s the place where questions get asked and answered by the teeming millions.
[Note: This message has been edited by CKDextHavn]

I’m OK with the dog part, but I’m pretty sure the cat “kneading” part of the answer has more to do with new kitten behaviour than with nesting. The kneading supposedly gets Mom’s milk to drop; older cats seem to exhibit the behaviour when they’re relaxed/secure/etc…

Actually, it was always my understanding dogs circle as a behaviour inherited from their ancestors. In the wild, amoung the tall weeds, dogs would circle to have a place to hide. The trampled grass would serve as their bed, however, a predator might miss the dog since the rest of the tall weeds were still standing. You do need to imagine the value of today’s behaviour placed in a historical context, in which dogs roamed wild.

Isn’t “tramp down the vegetation” what we said? … and what kinda predators fed on proto-dog/wolves?

Errr… Bigger predators?

John W. Kennedy
“Compact is becoming contract; man only earns and pays.”
– Charles Williams

… like the guy from the movie, with the camouflage suit that makes him invisibobble? and with the flame-throwing laser guns?

My mother, who also knows everything, once told me that our hound would circle before she settled down to check for snakes, holes and other pests or obstacles that might hinder a good sleep. So instead of the “patting down the grass” argument, let’s hear it for Mom’s “snake” explanation, especially since this makes sense in the modern, domesticated world as well.

All of these answers are good, but they all miss the obvious answer…

They’re waiting for clearance from the tower!

It’s obvious!

The dogs are watchdogs, and they’re winding themselves!

CKDextHavn, I went to www.straightdope.com/mailbag
& didn’t find the question so what’s a guy to do?

Besides that, they don’t sit down, they lay down.

Everyone knows that dogs are famous for their sense of smell. I was always under the impression that they sleep with their noses in the wind so they can smell danger (or food - heh) while they slept. So they circle around to find the wind. (Proper positioning of the olfactories is the key to a healthy snooze. Just ask any dog.)

Lordy, but I love the way people stick to their erroneous opinions, even in the face of facts. Otto’s first posting here effectively puts an end to the nose-to-the-wind theory, and add the fact that they circle indoors where there’s no particular wind…
But, go ahead, Moose, believe whatever you want.
In fact, they circle until their EARS are facing the music, because they know that it’s not over until the fat lady sings, and they wanna be facing the right way to hear her. Or, alternatively, when they do circle, the pace out EXACTLY nine yards, which lead to the famous saying…

Warning: sarcasm may creep into my posts, entirely unintended by the author.

Once an animal makes a circle, it will often continue circling, because one good turn deserves another.

Yeah, decemb, but that’s birds, not dogs… one good tern deserves another.

Talk about circling! I saw some seabirds who’d been eating hempseed: and there was no tern unstoned.

I paint the hulls of boats, and leave no stern untoned.

Well, to finish this off (maybe), the nose-to-the-wind idea doesn’t work, really, for many reasons. Melanie’s check-for-snakes-and-holes idea is okay, but if you think about it, you don’t need to circle to check - no snakes are going to be sitting there waiting for a dog to plop down on top of them, and if the spot is uncomfortable because of holes or lumps, that would be obvious if the dog just plopped right where it stood - no circling required. It might be a secondary benefit, but I’ll stick with my original answer as the primary benefit.

Actually, cats also circle before they lie down; sometimes they get up from a nap, circle a couple of times, and lie down again. I always thought they were just programmed to look around for danger.