- Depending on the frequency and time spent doing it, dog pacing can be cause for concern
- Anxiety and stress are the main causes of dog pacing
- Boredom, pain, age, and neurological/cognitive conditions are also reasons why dogs pace
- Try to redirect your dog if they are pacing. If you sense that something more serious is at play (such as a neurological issue), contact your veterinarian
- You should never crate or punish a dog because of pacing
Have you ever noticed your dog walking back and forth for long periods of time? Have you ever thought to yourself, my dog is pacing and acting weird? Don’t worry, you’re not alone.
Pacing isn’t a particularly abnormal behavior for our four-legged friends, but if it starts to feel constant or compulsive, you may want to dig further into the reasons behind it. Read on for everything you need to know about dog pacing, including five reasons why they may be doing it.
Dog Pacing: Is It Normal?
Dog pacing is more common than it is normal. Plenty of dogs pace, and if it’s infrequent and for short periods of time, it’s most likely pretty harmless. But according to Christine Pazdalski, a certified animal behaviorist and professional dog trainer based outside of Philadelphia, pacing could be indicative of a problem — either emotionally or physically — with your dog.
If you can’t easily identify or rectify the pacing, there could be something more serious at play that may require veterinary attention, so if you notice the frequency of this behavior trending upward, schedule an appointment with your veterinarian. They will be able to rule out any medical causes (such as neurological conditions), give you advice on how to help your dog, prescribe medications, and/or refer you to a canine behaviorist, if needed.
Why Is My Dog Pacing? 5 Reasons
Here are some potential causes of dog pacing:
Anxiety and stress
Very little behavior in dogs is meaningless, and many behaviors dogs engage in are known as displacement behaviors, says Pazdalski. This means the dog has an urge or anxiety that they’re suppressing by engaging in a specific other behavior that may seem odd out of context.
According to Pazdalski, anxiety and stress are the primary reasons why dogs pace. In fact, she says that most of the other reasons on this list can lead to pacing because they also cause dogs anxiety and stress.
The good news is that of all the reasons why dogs pace, anxiety and stress are perhaps the easiest to resolve on your own. But identifying the source of stress can still be tricky.
“There’s so much that could trigger a dog that we could be totally unaware of,” Pazdalski says. “They could smell a dead fox somewhere close by. It could be a low rumble or high pitch they’re hearing that we don’t. It could be so many things.” Things like fireworks or thunderstorms are common causes, says Amy Stone, DVM, Ph.D., a clinical associate professor at the University of Florida College of Veterinary Medicine. “If the pacing is related to stress or anxiety, you may also notice panting and/or vocalizing as well,” she adds. If you observe your dog pacing and panting at the same time, look around to see what might be triggering them.
Dogs need stimulation. “Boredom and extra energy very quickly change to anxiety, and anxiety can turn into unusual or unwanted behaviors,” says Pazdalski.
If you’re not taking your dog on regular walks or doing some other physical activity every day, they may pace as a way to release pent up energy. But that’s not all. Mental enrichment is also an important way to prevent your dog from feeling bored. “I always encourage people to try nose work, or [have] their dog go and find treats instead of just sitting for them, which engages different parts of the brain,” Pazdalski says.
If your dog is pacing because of pain, there’s a decent chance it’ll be pretty obvious because the pacing itself won’t look quite right. “They may be limping on one leg, or you may be able to see a wound or injury,” Stone says.
But some causes of pain are not visible on the outside, Stone adds, such as abdominal pain. If your dog is pacing and also seems restless, is unable to get comfortable, and maybe vocalizes or is quieter than normal, they may have pain related to something you can’t see, and you should take them to the veterinarian as soon as possible.
In the absence of any researched-back breed dispositions toward this behavior, it’s worth noting that older dogs may be more likely to engage in it as a form of displacement. Stone says that’s because older dogs are more prone to health issues and cognitive decline.
According to Pazdalski, health issues may lead to increased anxiety, and thus, more pacing. While not a direct cause of the behavior, age may exacerbate or bring about some of the other reasons for pacing.
It’s also worth noting that older dogs are typically less mobile than younger ones — sometimes significantly less mobile. If your dog is prone to pacing but appears to be exhibiting some other form of displacement behavior (like excessive licking) because of anxiety or some other reason, Pazdalski says it could be because they’re also suffering from arthritis or another similar condition. This is just another reason to always be on the lookout for noticeable changes in the way your dog behaves, especially as they age.
Neurologic conditions or other cognitive issues
Any trip to the veterinarian associated with pacing behavior will involve a thorough physical examination, which will, in turn, help dictate what other tests might be necessary, including those for neurologic problems. Stone says being wobbly or circling may accompany pacing behavior that’s related to neurologic problems, as can vomiting, repetitive movement of the eyes, seizures, or a tilt of the head to one side.
Dog Keeps Pacing: When to Worry
The most concerning reason why dogs pace is neurologic conditions, Stone says. If your dog is pacing and you observe any of the accompanying neurologic symptoms listed above, you should make an appointment with your veterinarian right away. If you notice that your dog is pacing every day or the pacing is getting worse, then it is also time to talk to a vet.
Pacing for any reason will become self-reinforcing the more a dog engages in the behavior. “Anything that calms them down in the moment (including pacing) can become a habit, but when that happens, it can become easier for owners to ignore it,” Pazdalski says. Remember that pacing is a sign that something is ‘off’ with your dog, and it needs to be addressed.
What to Do if Your Dog Is Pacing
Redirection can be very helpful if your dog is pacing. Take your dog for a walk, engage in some training or brain work, give them a long-lasting chew, or get them involved in social activities with other dogs. Of course, you also want to try to identify the source of the pacing behavior, but Pazdalski says a dog could benefit from having an outlet for their energy or a way to take their mind off whatever stressor is affecting them.
When it comes to what NOT to do if your dog is pacing, crating is number one on Pazdalski’s list. “If dogs are in a crate, they can’t get away. If there’s a storm or fireworks, and you take away their ability to pace, you’re also taking away their ability to dissipate some of that anxiousness, and it can make anxiety worse.” In addition, never punish your dog for pacing, as that can also increase anxiety and create conflict in your relationship with your pet.