If Rover has you running in circles because you can't figure out why he keeps walking in circles, there is no need to pant about it. There are several reasons for this common doggy behavior, most of which are perfectly normal and not a cause for concern.
Circling Before Lying Down
When a dog is getting ready to take a nap or to curl up for the night, he walks in circles as a way of getting his bed ready (even if the bed is just the middle of a floor). This behavior is linked to the dog’s wild ancestors. Wild dogs and wolves had to stomp down foliage to make a comfortable area for sleep and to get rid of bugs and snakes. Circling and stomping also served to claim their sleep spot. Domestic dogs have continued on with this habit because it is instinctual.
Circling and Stomping Before Going to the Bathroom
Dogs circle before relieving themselves for several reasons, one of which is similar to the reason for their bedding behavior. Stomping down grass allows dogs to have a clean, flat area to go to the bathroom and to make sure there aren't bugs or snakes beneath them. Stomping also serves to mark a dog’s territory. Dogs have scent glands in their paws, so in addition to their excrement and urine leaving an odor to warn other dogs away, their paws leave one too.
Circling and Inspecting Before Going to the Bathroom
Another reason that dogs circle before going to the bathroom is that it lets them survey their surroundings to make sure there isn't a predator somewhere in the periphery that might disturb them during their process. Dogs like to feel safe and have a sense of privacy when they are relieving themselves, just like people do. The circling motion while a dog is inspecting his surroundings also helps the waste to move down the dog's system.
When Circling Is Not Normal
If you notice your dog circling on occasions other than when he is preparing to lie down or go to the bathroom, you should be wary. Unusual circling can be an indicator of an ear infection or a neurological problem. On the other hand, it could be just a behavioral issue. Consult a veterinarian for a complete exam to determine the cause. If the veterinarian determines that it is a behavioral issue, she may recommend that you consult an animal behavior specialist.
Laura Payne has been freelance writing for several online publications in her free time since 2006. She holds a Master of Arts in linguistics from Wayne State University and a Bachelor of Arts in journalism from Oakland University. Payne teaches linguistics classes at both universities on an adjunct basis.