Why Does My Dog Pace in Circles?

By Jen Davis

Watching your dog pace in circles can be a disconcerting experience, especially if your dog's pacing is interfering with his daily life. Constant circling can be a sign that your dog is suffering from a behavioral or health problem. If your dog has started pacing in circles with no explanation, take him to the veterinarian for a full examination.

Pain or Discomfort

If your dog has just started pacing in circles, there is a chance the pacing is caused by pain. If your dog is pacing due to pain, the behavior is most likely the result of his inability to sit or lay down in a comfortable position. A number of medical conditions can cause significant discomfort and result in pacing, including bloat. Bloat is a condition where the stomach gets overfilled with air, gas or food and can twist, ultimately causing death. Take your dog to the veterinarian immediately if he begins pacing while showing any other symptoms of pain. Symptoms of pain include whining, howling, groaning, loss of appetite, changes in personality, panting, trembling or any other out-of-character behaviors.

Cognitive Dysfunction

Cognitive dysfunction is essentially the canine version of dementia. It tends to occur as your dog ages. Pacing is one of many symptoms of canine cognitive dysfunction. According to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, other symptoms include disorientation, getting lost in familiar locations, difficulty navigating around obstacles, loss of interest in interacting with people or other animals, personality changes, staring or fixating on objects, snapping at objects, obsessive licking, changes in activity levels, increased anxiety and restlessness and a change in bathroom behaviors. Your veterinarian will be able to use the information you provide him to diagnose cognitive dysfunction. He can prescribe a combination of medications and training modifications that will help manage the condition as your pet continues to age.

Compulsive Behaviors

If your dog's circling and pacing do not have a direct medical cause, such as pain, it is possible his pacing is compulsive. A compulsive behavior interferes with your dog's ability to function in daily life. The ASPCA defines compulsive behavior as performing ritualized, repetitive behaviors that do not have a true goal or function. Compulsive behaviors can develop as the result of anxiety or conflict. Your dog may have begun the behavior initially as a way to cope with frustrations or fears within his daily life. It becomes compulsive when it interferes with your dog's ability to function.

Dealing With Pacing

If your veterinarian has ruled out medical causes for your dogs pacing and circling, enlist the help of a professional dog trainer to get the behavior to stop. The dog trainer will help you to identify what caused the behavior, such as a lack of exercise that resulted in pacing to release pent up energy and boredom. The trainer will help you to redirect your dog's behaviors into productive activity.