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Why Is My Dog Pacing? Understanding This Behavior and How to Help

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why is my dog pacing

There’s a great number of reasons and answers to the question, “Why is my dog pacing? “ and understanding these causes is crucial. It’s concerning if you notice your dog displaying such anxious and restless behavior. And, if you’ve ever been fidgety yourself, you probably have a clue about what they’re feeling.

This seemingly simple action can unfold a narrative of emotions and needs that your canine might be struggling to express. This is especially true if you notice accompanying signs such as pinned ears, hiding, and vocalization.

We’ll explore how to identify underlying issues and provide some practical solutions to address this problem. Our findings are grounded in scholarly research, such as Dr. Bonnie Beaver’s Canine Behavior and Insights, for well-informed responses to your concerns.

This type of movement can be normal behavior for dogs, but sometimes it could indicate an underlying issue. To better understand your dog’s agitation, keep an eye out for any of these accompanying behaviors:

BehaviorPossible Cause
LickingPain, Anxiety
WhiningPain, Anxiety
VomitingPain, Illness
Refusing to lie downPain, Discomfort

By identifying these other behaviors, we can work to address the root cause. For instance, if your dog is circling and whining, they may be experiencing pain or anxiety, and you should consult a veterinarian to rule out any behavioral problems.

It’s always best to monitor your dog’s behavior and seek professional advice. Moreover, dogs with prowling tendencies typically have other less-than-ideal behaviors like scratching, barking, and even peeing when excited.

This is what pacing looks like:

What Does It Mean When A Dog Is Pacing?

Countless studies have shown that agitated movement in dogs typically results from anxiety and occasionally excitement. One notable one is a study of 386 dog owners that showed panting and pacing as a common response to fear in more than 16% of all responses.

I see pacing most often in dogs that are scared. One of my own dogs is very frightened of thunderstorms and will pace up and down in my room until I let her climb on my bed and lay under the covers. This stops the pacing, but she will usually still pant from stress. It’s also more common in my older dog who is beginning to struggle with a bit of doggy dementia. If you see your pup pace back and forth, it’s vital to investigate the reasons. In some cases you may need to speak to your vet and give your dog something to help them calm down.

Note: Some dog professionals may refer to pacing as a gait, which is easy to confuse with trotting. The prior gait has both a back and a front leg moving forward at the same time. In contrast, a trot involves the right front leg moving in the same direction as the left back leg.

This video is a great illustration:

Still, the University of Minnesota observes that while pacing gait may be normal in other four-legged animals, it typically shows up in dogs due to fatigue or emotional reasons.

However, this is not the subject of this article since we’re talking about dogs moving back and forth in space as opposed to how their legs move.

Here are signs that your dog’s movement is out of agitation:

Signs of Pacing

When our canines start nervous movement, it’s usually quite noticeable. They’ll walk back and forth, often on the same path, seemingly without a clear purpose. Some of the most common signs include:

  • Walking in repetitive patterns;
  • Persistent circling;
  • Difficulty settling down;
  • Frequent changing of direction; and
  • Appearing anxious or restless.

In some cases, dogs might even show vocalizations like whining or barking.

Normal vs. Abnormal Pacing

We need to differentiate between normal and abnormal circling in our dogs. Here’s a brief overview of both types:

Normal Abnormal 
Occurs occasionallyOccurs frequently or persistently
Related to excitement, such as before a walkNo apparent reason
Stops when the dog is distractedContinues despite distractions
The dog appears relaxed and content The dog seems anxious, stressed, or in pain

Normal circling usually happens in response to specific stimuli, like an exciting event, hunger, or the need to go outside. In these cases, the pacing is generally harmless and typically stops when the dog’s needs are met, or the anticipated event occurs.

On the other hand, abnormal pacing could be a cause for concern. This type is generally more persistent and doesn’t seem to have an obvious trigger. In such cases, it’s crucial for us to closely observe our dog’s behavior and consult a veterinarian to rule out any underlying health issues or anxiety concerns.

9 Common Reasons for Dog Pacing

Close up of black dog pacing

1. They Want Something

Jumpiness and restlessness could be a sign that your dog is hungry or thirsty or they want to help themselves. Additionally, If a dog has learned that moving up and down gets attention or a response from their owner, they may continue the behavior as a way to seek interaction.

2. Physical Discomfort

One of the primary reasons for a dog’s jitteriness is physical discomfort. Health issues can cause your dog to pace to find relief or signal to you that something is not quite right. These include: 

  • Injuries;
  • Arthritis; and
  • Gastrointestinal distress.

Observe your dog for signs such as limping, whining, and swollen joints. Consulting your vet is necessary if you notice any of these signs in your dog, as it could indicate an underlying health problem.

3. Anxiety & Stress

Dogs can experience emotional distress, just like people. The main factors contributing to emotional stress include:

  • Separation anxiety;
  • Loud noises (e.g., thunderstorms, fireworks);
  • Changes in routine; and
  • Recent moving.

While fear is an emotion necessary to survive, some dogs have too much of it. The study Prevalence, Comorbidity, and Behavioral Variation in Canine Anxiety defines anxiety as prolonged fear and explores restlessness as a symptom.

CBD oil and calming collars could help your dog stay relaxed during distressing times. Additionally, consistent routines and positive reinforcement training may aid in reducing anxiety and stress levels in your dog.

4. Moving Due to Old Age

Senior dogs might pace due to cognitive dysfunction syndrome, similar to Alzheimer’s disease in humans. This can cause confusion, disorientation, restlessness, and even sudden aggression, like growling at night. In addition to mental decline, senior dogs can also suffer from conditions like arthritis, contributing to restlessness.

This dog is an example of a dog doing non-stop circling due to aging:

5. Canine Cognitive Dysfunction

Canine Cognitive Dysfunction (CCD), also known as doggie dementia, is a condition that can cause our dogs to engage in jumpy behavior. In CCD, a dog’s brain undergoes changes, leading to a decline in cognitive functions like memory, learning, and perception.

Restlessness is just one of many symptoms our dogs can exhibit when experiencing CCD. Other symptoms may include:

  • Disorientation;
  • Changes in sleep patterns;
  • Chasing and biting the tail;
  • Decreased interest in interaction or play; and
  • House soiling.

Similar to the human condition of Alzheimer’s disease, there is no cure for CCD; however, certain treatments and lifestyle adjustments can help manage the symptoms and maintain our dogs’ quality of life. These can include enhanced mental stimulation, exercise, and diet changes.

6. Poisoning or Toxicity

Sometimes, our dogs may come into contact with substances that can cause poisoning or toxicity in their system. This may lead to circling as a result of pain or disorientation. Some common substances that can cause poisoning in dogs include:

  • Chocolate;
  • Grapes and raisins;
  • Xylitol (found in sugar-free gum and some peanut butter);
  • Certain medications meant for humans;
  • Household chemicals and cleaners; and
  • Pesticides and insecticides.

It’s essential to remember that even small amounts of these substances can be harmful to our dogs. If we suspect that our dog has ingested any of these items, acting quickly is crucial.

The first step is to determine what our dog has consumed. If possible, save any remaining parts of the substance or the packaging for reference. This can help veterinarians provide the most appropriate treatment.

Next, reach out to a professional for guidance. This can be a veterinarian or a poison control hotline. The ASPCA Animal Poison Control Center can be reached in the United States at (888) 426-4435, although consultation fees may apply.

Some common symptoms of poisoning in dogs include:

  • Vomiting;
  • Diarrhea;
  • Drooling;
  • Loss of appetite;
  • Twitching or seizures;
  • Weakness or lethargy; and
  • Dilated pupils.

In the case of poisoning, do not induce vomiting unless specifically instructed to do so by a veterinarian. In some cases, administering activated charcoal to help absorb the toxin can be beneficial, but a veterinarian’s guidance is necessary.

7. Overexcitement and Hyperarousal

Sometimes, our dogs get overexcited or experience hyperarousal. This can happen for various reasons, such as being in a new environment, anticipating walks or food, or reuniting with loved ones. When dogs get overly excited, their adrenaline levels rise, causing them to pace around to let out some of that pent-up energy.

In order to address this issue, we should first identify the cause of the overexcitement and try to eliminate or reduce the triggering factor. Implementing a structured routine is another technique that can help our dogs feel more at ease and know what to expect.

8. Nausea And Gastrointestinal Issues

One of the common reasons for fidgeting is due to nausea and gastrointestinal issues. These issues can make your dog uncomfortable, and consequently, they may pace around to cope with this discomfort. 

We often observe symptoms like drooling, swallowing excessively, vomiting, and lip licking when dogs feel nauseous. Gastrointestinal issues can be caused by various factors, such as:

  • Ingestion of foreign objects;
  • Food Sensitivities;
  • Bacterial or viral infections; and
  • Allergies.

9. Neurological Issues and Focal Seizures

Neurological issues might be the cause of your dog’s spiraling behavior. Like humans, dogs can suffer from neurological disorders affecting their brains and nervous system.

 Some of the common neurological issues in dogs include brain tumors, encephalitis, or even degenerative myelopathy. Any of these conditions could lead to circling as a coping mechanism or a manifestation of discomfort. 

Focal seizures, also known as partial seizures, are another possible cause. These seizures affect only a small part of the brain and may not result in the full-body convulsions generally associated with seizures. Instead, they might involve only subtle behavioral changes, which can include:

  • Pacing;
  • Lip-smacking;
  • Staring off into space;
  • Whining; and
  • Random barking.

To rule out focal seizures as a cause for your dog’s restlessness, it’s essential to monitor their behavior and consult your veterinarian. They might recommend specific testing, such as electroencephalograms (EEGs), to diagnose and medicate seizure activity in your dog’s brain properly.

Diagnosing the Problem

When our canines start fidgety motions unexpectedly, it’s essential to investigate the root cause of this behavior. In this section, we’ll discuss the importance of a veterinary check-up and a behavioral analysis in identifying the issue.

Veterinary Check-up

First and foremost, schedule a visit to the veterinarian. They will thoroughly examine any potential health issues causing your dog’s disquiet.

  1. Medical examination: Your vet will carefully examine your dog’s body to detect any signs of injury, infection, or underlying health condition that may be causing the problem. This involves checking the dog’s skin, joints, and temperature to identify irregularities.
  2. Bloodwork and other diagnostics: Your vet may perform additional diagnostic tests, such as blood tests or X-rays, to help determine if your dog has an illness or condition that could be the cause.
  3. Recommendations for treatment: If a health issue is identified, your vet will recommend an appropriate treatment plan for your dog. Depending on the underlying issue, this may include medication, physical therapy, or diet changes.

Behavioral Analysis

If your dog has a clean bill of health, the next step is to examine their environment and behavior. This will help to determine if there’s a psychological or situational cause.

  1. Analyzing the environment: Are there any new changes that might be triggering your dog’s sudden roaming? Common triggers can include loud noises, unfamiliar people or animals, or moving to a new home.
  2. Identifying behavioral patterns: Monitor your dog closely. Is it limited to certain times of the day, specific locations, or only in response to specific stimuli? Identifying these patterns can help in finding the cause.
  3. Seek professional help if needed: If your dog’s roaming continues without an obvious reason, it might be a good idea to consult a dog behaviorist or a trainer. They can provide expert advice on how to address and manage the problem.

Tackling This Behavior

excited dog running jumping pacing

Here, we will discuss some helpful methods to tackle sudden wandering behavior, dividing it into Training Techniques and seeking Professional Help.

Training Techniques

When addressing this issue, being proactive with our dog’s training can go a long way. Here are some training techniques we can try:

  • Exercise: Regular physical activities, like walking or playing fetch, can help reduce aimless movement by burning off excess energy.
  • Mental Stimulation: Engaging our dog’s mind with puzzle toys, scent games, or teaching new tricks can be valuable in reducing anxiety-driven circling.

Seeking Professional Help

Sometimes, our dog’s nervousness might persist despite our best efforts. In these cases, seeking professional help is recommended. Call your vet if your dog has anxiety symptoms like hiding, tucked tail, freezing, pinned ears, or pain-related signs like yelping and limping.

Professional HelpRole
VeterinarianAddress medical issues
Dog BehavioristTailor an anxiety reduction plan

Addressing our dog’s agitated behavior can be a challenge, but with patience and perseverance, we can ensure our dogs lead a happy, healthy life!

Preventing Pacing in the Future

So, let’s take a look at the basic steps to prevent a dog walking around restlessly.

Establishing Routine

One of the most effective ways to prevent agitated wandering in dogs is to establish a consistent routine. This allows dogs to anticipate when they’ll receive meals, walks, and attention, which helps reduce anxiety. Here’s a sample daily schedule for your dog:

7:00 AMMorning walk
8:00 AMBreakfast
12:00 PMPlaytime
5:00 PMEvening walk
6:00 PMDinner
9:00 PMBedtime snuggles

Of course, each dog is different and may need a customized routine to best suit their needs. Regardless of the specifics, consistency is key.

Creating a Safe Environment

Another way to help prevent this problem is to provide your dog with a safe, comfortable environment. This includes:

  • Provide a designated resting area;
  • Toys and mental stimulation; and
  • Reduce stressors, such as loud noises, other animals, or chaotic environments.

Remember, every dog is unique, and finding the right approach for your dog may take some time and patience.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

Why does my dog pace and pant frequently?

Sometimes, our dogs may pace and pant frequently due to anxiety, stress, or overstimulation. We might also see our pets exhibit these behaviors if they’re in pain or discomfort. It’s essential for us to observe them closely and consult our veterinarian if the problem persists.

What causes my dog to pace and refuse to lie down at night?

There could be several potential causes for our dog’s inability or refusal to lie down at night. One possibility is that they may feel restless due to pain or discomfort; another may be anxiety or a general inability to relax. 

What could be the reason for my dog’s sudden whining and pacing?

A sudden change in our dog’s behavior, like whining and pacing, might be their way of expressing distress or discomfort. This could be an underlying medical condition or a reaction to something in their environment. 

Why is my dog pacing while constantly licking?

Jitteriness and constant licking might be associated with anxiety or obsessive-compulsive behaviors in our dogs. Another possibility is that they might be trying to soothe themselves due to discomfort or pain. 

What are the reasons for an old dog to pace?

As our dogs age, they may encounter various age-related issues that can cause them to pace. Cognitive dysfunction or senility, arthritis, or other medical conditions are possible culprits. We should work closely with our veterinarian to monitor our older dog’s health and ensure they are comfortable and well cared for.

What might cause a dog to pace and whine at the same time?

Our dog may pace and whine simultaneously due to a combination of factors like anxiety, pain, or heightened arousal. It’s crucial to examine any noticeable changes in their environment or schedule and consult our veterinarian if we’re concerned to ensure our dog’s needs are met and they remain healthy and happy.

Final Thoughts

It’s natural to worry when we notice our dogs randomly moving, but there are several possible factors to consider. Some of the common reasons are:

  • Anxiety or stress;
  • Boredom;
  • Seeking attention; and
  • Health issues.

First rule out any medical conditions by consulting a veterinarian. Remember, communication is key. By paying attention to our dog’s body language and needs, we can better understand and support them in leading a happy and well-adjusted life.


Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions. Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.