It’s a common misconception that old dogs walk in circles because they’re confused.
But it turns out, they’re often just trying to relieve pain in their hips or other joints.
1. Why Does My Old Dog Walk In Circles?
A dog walking in circles is not necessarily an indication that he’s lost his mind.
It could be due to arthritis or another condition that causes joint inflammation and pain.
“Old dogs are more likely to circle as a way to relieve the pain caused by arthritis,” says veterinarian Dr. John E. Lunsford III.
“This is especially true for older dogs with hip dysplasia.”
Dogs that have hip dysplasia (HD) may start walking in circles at any age, but the symptoms become more obvious as the dog ages.
If you notice your dog circling, you should consult your vet immediately.
Dr. Lunsford explains why this happens: “Arthritis can cause pain in the shoulder blade region of the dog causing him to turn around and look back over his shoulders while moving forward.
This action will continue until the pain subsides.”
In some cases, a dog’s circling behavior is more than just a symptom of joint pain.
An animal behaviorist named Karen Pryor developed a method called “Puppy Pacing” which helps dogs learn how to behave properly in public places.
She also uses it to help treat anxiety in animals.
Pryor recommends using a leash when your dog starts to wander off in circles.
The leash should be long enough so that you can easily reach your dog from behind without straining yourself.
You can then pull your dog back into the right direction.
If your dog has been circling for a long time, she might need surgery.
A vet will use anesthesia during the procedure to reduce the pain, and prescribe pain medication afterward.
Your vet may also recommend physical therapy if the problem persists.
Dr. Lunsford notes that there are two types of arthritis: osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis.
Osteoarthritis is most commonly seen in older dogs and humans.
Rheumatoid arthritis is less common, but occurs in younger dogs.
There are also several other conditions that can lead to circling behavior, including vestibular disease, epilepsy, brain tumors, and spinal cord injuries.
Dogs with these disorders may exhibit similar symptoms.
Another possibility is that your dog is bored.
Make sure you keep her occupied by giving her plenty of exercise and toys.
But don’t let her play too much on her own.
She’ll tire herself out and end up circling instead of running.
As for training, keep your dog away from distractions like televisions and video games.
You can also try distracting her with treats, but make sure you give them to her only after she completes a task.
2. The Causes of Canine Circling
According to the American Veterinary Medical Association, dogs are capable of doing everything from playing fetch to running marathons, and it turns out that our canine friends have some unique abilities when it comes to locomotion.
“Dogs can move so quickly that they can run on four legs for short distances,” says Dr. Amy Johnson, DVM, at the University of Georgia College of Veterinary Medicine.
“They can also turn easily and change directions quickly.”
Even though they may be able to do all those things, though, there are still times when your dog will start walking in circles.
The most likely reason is that he’s experiencing pain somewhere else in his body.
Dr. Johnson explains that dogs don’t typically circle because they’re confused.
Instead, it’s usually due to one of two causes:
Pain in the hip joint
Arthritis in another area of the body, such as the elbow, knee, or ankle.
If you think your dog might be circling, but aren’t sure why, here are three signs that could indicate that your dog is limping or limbering up.
3. How to Help Your Old Dog
If you have an elderly dog, there are some things you can do to help them feel better and live longer.
The most important thing is to make sure they get the exercise they need, even if it isn’t as much as they used to.
If you can, give them something like a daily stroll around the block or a few laps in the pool.
You might also be able to help your dog by giving him some treats when he does his favorite activities.
Here are some ideas for how to keep your older dog active and healthy.
Keep up with your regular grooming routine
Give them lots of love
Offer plenty of variety in their diet
Make sure they always have water available
Make sure they get enough rest at night
Don’t let them overheat
Get them on the right diet
Help them find a good vet
If you don’t want to spend money on expensive supplements or treatments, make sure you take care of these basics first.
And try not to worry too much about what age your dog is — sometimes the best thing you can do for them is simply to enjoy the time you’ve got together!
4. When to Worry About Circling
As long as your dog is happy and healthy, he should be able to keep up with his exercise routine without circling.
Of course, if you notice any changes in your dog’s behavior, such as difficulty walking, falling over, or refusing to go outside, then it’s time to take him to the vet for an examination.
If your dog has been diagnosed with arthritis, hip dysplasia, or another condition that causes joint pain, then you’ll want to make sure that he gets regular physical therapy.
The exercises your vet recommends will help strengthen your dog’s muscles, tendons, ligaments, and bones so that he can continue to enjoy life at home.
But what about when your dog isn’t suffering from a medical problem?
If your dog is just doing his daily business, then there’s no need to worry about him circling.
5. Circling as a Symptom of Dementia
You may have heard the term “cognitive impairment” used to describe dementia.
Cognitive refers to mental functions like memory and thinking.
Impairment means that a person can no longer function normally in everyday life.
For example, if you had cognitive impairment, you wouldn’t be able to remember where you left your keys or how to get home from work.
Dementia is a condition characterized by cognitive impairment that progressively worsens over time.
The most common type of dementia is Alzheimer’s disease (AD), which affects millions of people worldwide.
This form of dementia typically occurs after 60 years of age and progresses slowly over several years, eventually leading to death.
Other types of dementia include vascular dementia due to cerebrovascular disease and Lewy body dementia due to Parkinson’s disease.
In AD, nerve cells in certain areas of the brain are lost.
These areas include the hippocampus, an area located near the amygdala, which plays a role in emotion and memory.
As nerve cells die, these regions lose their ability to create new memories and recall existing ones.
Other symptoms of dementia include difficulty with language and executive functioning.
Executive functioning includes planning, organizing, prioritizing, and problem-solving tasks.
Language involves speaking and writing, and visual processing involves recognizing objects and scenes.
For many people, the first sign of dementia is difficulty remembering names and faces.
They may also become disoriented and forget what day it is.
Sometimes, they’ll appear unaware of what’s happening around them.
Even so, some people don’t experience any noticeable signs until later stages of the disease.
Although there’s no cure for dementia, researchers continue to study ways to slow its progression.
One promising approach is exercise.
Studies show that physical activity helps reduce the risk of developing dementia.
And even when dementia does develop, exercise may help improve mood and cognition.
To learn more about causes and treatments for different types of dementia, see our list of articles on the subject.
6. Circling as a Symptom of Pain
The most obvious reason for circling is pain.
If you’ve ever seen an elderly dog trotting around in circles, you probably thought the poor thing was lost and confused.
And it’s true — some dogs do get so disoriented by pain that they can’t figure out where they are, or how to get home.
However, that’s not what happens with most dogs who circle.
They don’t have any trouble finding their way around.
Instead, they’re trying to find relief from pain.
“When I first saw this behavior in my older dogs, I thought they were getting lost,” says Dr. Kathy Keeler, a veterinarian at Petco.
“But then I realized they weren’t confused at all.”
Dogs who circle may be experiencing hip dysplasia, arthritis, or other joint problems.
The problem isn’t confusion; it’s pain.
In fact, many dogs who circle will eventually stop doing it when they feel better.
“This is one of those behaviors that goes away on its own,” says Keeler.
“Once the pain has subsided, they’ll start walking normally again.”
For instance, if your dog starts circling after she gets up off her bed, she may have a sore back leg.
When she stops moving around, the pain will go away, and she’ll be able to move normally again.
If your dog circles while she’s lying down, it could mean that she’s got a sore hip.
As soon as she stands up, she’ll feel better, and the circling will stop.
If your dog circles even though he’s feeling good, there could be another cause behind it.
Some dogs like to keep busy, which means they need stimulation.
If your dog circles in the house, you might want to give him a toy, or put on some music, so he doesn’t have to sit around and wait for something else to happen.
He needs to be entertained!
7. Other Causes of Circling
While the most common cause of circling is pain, there are several other causes of this behavior.
Here are some of them.
A dog who has had hip dysplasia may become very uncomfortable when walking on hard surfaces.
They’ll try to find soft places to walk, but may end up circling around an area where they can’t get comfortable.
If your dog has arthritis, he may be more likely to circle than usual.
He’ll probably want to avoid getting his paws dirty and may prefer to stay away from sharp objects such as nails and sticks.
There are also neurological disorders that can cause circling.
Dogs with these conditions may have trouble keeping track of which way they’ve already turned while they’re walking.
This makes it difficult for them to know how much further they need to go before turning back toward home.
Dogs who are blind will sometimes circle around obstacles, trying to figure out what they’re seeing.
Blind dogs may circle around furniture, too, in order to keep track of their surroundings.
Some older dogs may feel like they’re moving in slow motion, especially if they’ve been injured.
They may think that the ground is moving under them, even though they’re not.
This could lead to them circling around in an attempt to compensate for this illusion.
8. Preventing Circling
While there are many causes of circling, the most important thing you can do is prevent your dog from getting into trouble in the first place.
The following tips will help keep your older dog safe and sound as he ages:
Keep him on leash when you go for walks.
This way, if he gets distracted by an interesting scent, he’ll be easily controlled and won’t end up walking around aimlessly.
If you think your dog might be losing his mind, make sure he has plenty of exercise.
A sedentary lifestyle can lead to various mental disorders like dementia and depression.
Make sure to get at least one hour of activity each day.
Make sure that he’s eating enough food.
Older dogs need more calories than younger ones, so make sure he eats plenty of high-quality food with lots of protein, fat, and vitamins.
Make sure he has regular checkups with his vet.
If a problem arises, it’s best to catch it early before it becomes serious.
Don’t let your dog sleep on hard surfaces.
He may develop arthritis, hip dysplasia, or any number of joint problems if he sleeps on hard floors.
Never give your dog too much medication.
Be careful not to overdo it so that he doesn’t become drowsy and fall asleep while driving or operating machinery.
Avoid giving him medications that contain caffeine.
Caffeine is harmful to older dogs’ kidneys.
Exercise caution when giving your dog injections.
Try to avoid injecting him right after he takes a long walk or runs around the yard.
You want to make sure he’s fully recovered before administering any medicine.
Try to keep him away from household chemicals.
These substances can cause skin irritation and even cancer.
Avoid using flea and tick products, which are especially dangerous to elderly dogs.
The truth is, most dogs will eventually start walking in circles if you let them.
It’s important not to freak them out by forcing them into the center of the room and telling them to “get back to where you started”.
Instead, try these tips for coaxing your dog back to their original path.
If you have an older dog that has been circling for some time, there are many reasons why this could be happening.
Read on to find out what causes your dog to wander off the straight line and get yourself more information about how to keep your dog from going crazy.
1. Make Sure Your Dog Has Plenty Of Exercise
A tired dog is a bored dog.
If your dog is used to long walks every day, give him a break.
Try taking him for a shorter walk instead of the usual one-hour trot around the block.
You can also take your dog for a short jog around the park or even do some jumping jacks with him if he enjoys those activities.
Even better, try playing fetch with him.
Fetching can help stimulate his mind and body.
Plus, it will tire him out so he won’t feel like doing anything else after.
2. Give Your Dog A Treat When He Goes Back On Track
When your dog starts to circle again, make sure you reward him when he goes back exactly where you want him.
This way, he’ll associate going back to the same place with getting a treat.
Even better, try giving him a treat every time he comes close to the point where he was before.
3. Put Your Dog in His Own Yard
If you don’t have any land of your own, consider buying a small backyard enclosure.
These enclosures are designed to allow dogs to roam freely but still provide a safe area for them to sleep and rest.
You can use an enclosure as a training tool as well.
Put your dog in the yard without the enclosure and tell him to stay there.
Then, put the fence up and leave him alone for a while.
See if he wanders away again.
Once you’ve done this exercise a few times, you should be able to train your dog to stay in the yard without the enclosure.
4. Keep Your Dog Safe From Scary Things Around The House
There are plenty of things around your house that might scare or annoy your dog.
For example, there’s the vacuum cleaner, the washing machine, the doorbell, and even the microwave.
Your dog probably doesn’t understand that all of these things exist.
That’s why you need to teach him how to react to them.
Start by having him sit quietly next to you while you turn on the vacuum cleaner.
Next, show him the washing machine and explain that it’s something good to play with.
Don’t forget to mention that the doorbell means someone is at the door.
Also, tell him that the microwave is another thing that’s fun to play with.
After you’ve taught your dog how to deal with each situation safely, put all of these items away and see if he tries to go near them again.
5. Teach Your Dog Not To Be Afraid Of People
If your dog is afraid of people, you can try teaching him to interact with strangers.
First, pick a person who doesn’t look scary.
Show him this person and ask him to come closer.
Then, praise him when he does.
Repeat this process until your dog is comfortable with people he doesn’t know.
After you’ve worked through this step, you can move onto the next one.
Teach your dog to accept food from strangers and then try feeding him treats from different people.
6. Help Your Dog Learn How To Socialize With Other Dogs
Socialization is extremely important for dogs.
It helps them learn how to behave appropriately in social situations.
Unfortunately, most puppies are raised in isolation.
As a result, they can become shy or aggressive when they encounter new animals.
To help your dog overcome this problem, you can teach him how to properly greet unfamiliar dogs.
Start by picking a puppy that looks calm and friendly.
Have your dog sit next to the puppy and pat its belly.
Praise both of them when they’re finished.
Then, repeat this process several times until your dog is comfortable with the puppy.
Next, introduce your dog to a medium-sized dog.
Again, praise your dog when he greets the other animal.
Then, slowly increase the size of the other dog until he’s introduced to a large dog.
Remember to always praise your dog whenever he interacts with another dog.
7. Take Your Dog Outside More Often
One reason why dogs tend to wander off the path is boredom.
If you want to prevent your dog from becoming bored, you should take him outside more often.
Get him used to being outside and interacting with other dogs.
Give him a chance to run and chase sticks and balls.
You can even take him for a longer walk to help him burn off some energy.
8. Use A Collar & Leash
If you’ve tried everything you could think of to keep your dog from walking in circles and he keeps doing it anyway, you might need to resort to using a leash and collar.
There are certain types of collars that are designed specifically to prevent dogs from wandering off the path.
Don’t worry though – you don’t have to buy a fancy collar right now.
All you really need is a regular collar and a leash.
Just attach the leash to your dog’s collar and lead him to the spot where he usually goes off course.
Keep repeating this process until he learns to stop himself from straying.
9. Try Using A GPS Tracker
If none of the methods mentioned above work, you may need to use a GPS tracker.
These devices are designed to help you locate your dog quickly and easily.
They come in handy when you need to track down your dog in an emergency.
You can purchase a device such as this one for $99.99.
Place it inside your dog’s collar and set it to automatically send you an alert when your dog leaves the area where you placed it.
You can then head over to the site and download the data sent by the tracker.
In addition to tracking your dog, you can also use a GPS tracker to monitor his location.
You can track your dog’s movements in real time so you can determine where he’s heading and whether he needs to visit the vet.