Dog behavior: Why they run in circles

Is your dog making a bed, or is it expressing nervousness? Compulsive, frantic running in circles is easy to recognize; your dog just won’t stop! This can be caused by stressors such as overstimulation in your home environment, combined with lack of a quiet place to escape to. This is seen most frequently in breeds, or mixes, considered high-strung.

Several responses play into a long-term end to the behavior. In an active household, a quiet place to retreat to can be very important. Reasonable exercise will help work off excess energy. Provide calm, loving petting regularly & often (this is when your dog isn’t circling; otherwise you may accidentally reinforce the circling behavior). When you catch your stressed-out dog ‘doing the circle thing,’ you can help train him or her out of it by offering some play with a toy your dog really enjoys. You may find it effective to practice some on-leash work, making changes in direction with positive verbal cues, when your dog begins to circle.

When the circling stops, calm praise and petting, with the occasional treat, is a major positive reinforcer. Remember, the behavior will most likely not stop forever unless you continue the positive reinforcement. Even the vast majority of well-trained dogs need the occasional ‘tune-up,’ and if you notice the circling behavior begin again, it’s not a failure, it’s simply time to do a little more training.

I’ve seen this work very effectively with a dog that had been placed on sedatives by its veterinarian, in an attempt to stop the behavior. The medication wasn’t working, and the dog was thought to be a hopeless case. Behavior problems are very seldom hopeless. If you aren’t getting success with this on your own, try a basic obedience course with a compassionate & knowledgeable instructor.

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