Wondering why do dogs circle before pooping? This is a really good question. Well, here’s a direct answer: we really don’t know. However, based on what we know about dogs so far, we can at the very least make some educated guesses. Dogs are known to engage in some really odd behaviors at times, and until the day dogs can talk, all we can do is just assume things. So far, there doesn’t seem to be a right or wrong answer to this question of “why do dogs circle before pooping,” but we have come up with a series of theories. Which one do you think fits your dog best?
Keeping Critters Out of the Way
Why do dogs circle before pooping? This theory keeps in mind a dog’s ancestral past, when dogs were still on the wild side and used to wander in tall grass. Just as in the case of dogs circling before going to bed, there are chances that dogs circle before pooping, in an effort to scare off any critters.
Critters living in tall grass may involve anything, from stinging bugs, to scorpions, to poisonous snakes. By patting down the grass with the paws and moving in a circle, dogs may have therefore been able to clear the grass from any potential critters that might have posed a threat.
When dogs poop they indeed are quite in a vulnerable position. They must stay still for a few seconds, and without eyes behind their backs acting as rear-view mirrors, they can’t see what going on by their back ends.
On top of that, with the tail out of the way, their rear ends have areas with less hair to protect them. Perhaps, this is also why some dogs are so obsessed on checking their rear ends when they see a bug hovering around them!
Keeping Grass Out of the Way
This other theory focuses on a dog’s need for cleanliness let’s call it the “ick factor” if that’s something dogs may have. Again, thinking back in the olden days when dogs lived in areas with tall vegetation, there may be chances that dogs were walking in a circle to stomp down the grass, but this time to prevent from putting themselves in a “sticky situation.”
In other words, let’s imagine a dog pooping in tall grass that was left un-stomped. At some point, bowel movement after bowel movement, dogs may have learned through their evolutionary history that pooping on tall grass is quite an inconvenience. The poop may get trapped on the grass blades and end up smearing all over the fur.
On top of that, if it was windy, perhaps the grass blades may have tickled the dog’s behind, startling them and leaving them in doubt on whether it was an actual grass blade or perhaps some type of critter! It may be that dogs at this point, started circling for dual purposes: scaring off any critters and patting down annoying grasses.
A Marking Behavior
Since dogs use their poop and pee as business cards, this theory on why do dogs circle before pooping has some validity. Maybe dogs circle before pooping so that they can leave a mark for other dogs or other animals to acknowledge their presence.
Dogs are known to lift their legs to pee on vertical surfaces such as electric poles, fire hydrants and mail posts, for the simple fact that these objects are elevated. They are elevated just enough to be conveniently sniffed by other dogs, just at their own nose level! The dogs on the receiving end will therefore sniff the pee and learn a thing or two (or most likely, lots more!) about the dog who has left the urine behind.
Poop can also act as business cards. Indeed,it’s assumed that many dogs kick their legs back after pooping so that they leave some visual and olfactory marks behind. There may be chances therefore that dogs circling before pooping are doing so intentionally so to leave behind some additional markings that inform other dogs “Rover was here.”
From a visual level, poop is more readily found if the grass is stomped all around it. From an olfactory level, dogs may smell the scent of the broken vegetation, and on top of that, consider that dogs have special have scent glands between their toes. When a dog pats down the grass, there are therefore chances that the scent from such glands is transferred to the ground and the blades of grass.
In Alignment with Earth’s Magnetic Field
Here’s another interesting theory as to why do dogs circle before pooping, and this time it comes from an actual study. According to a study published by the Frontiers in Zoology Journal, dogs appear to be sensitive to the small variations in the Earth’s magnetic field and when observing several dogs pooping over the course of two years (1,893 poops and 5,582 pees to be exact!), it appears that dogs prefer to eliminate with their bodies well aligned along the north-south axis.
This is after all, not an uncommon behavior in several animals. A tendency for this has been observed in grazing and resting cattle, deer and several foxes for the purposes of orientation and navigation and the development of regional maps. Knowing that dogs have an innate ability to navigate towards an original location through unfamiliar areas, it made sense to test them as well.
So is Rover really acting as a compass needle swinging around when Mother Nature calls? Some dog owners think this might be a load of cr*p (pun intended). Next time your dog poops though, it might be still worth the effort to just take notice where he is facing. The researchers may really be up to something, or perhaps the “dog’s alignment” is purely a random act.
Interesting in learning more about other interesting doggy behaviors? Well while you are here, why not check out why dogs do the victory dance after pooping.
- Dogs are sensitive to small variations of the Earth’s magnetic field, Hart et al. Frontiers in Zoology 2013, 10:80