dog keeps pacing and won't lay down
Pet Health Questions and Answers

17 Very Common Reasons Why a Dog is Pacing and Unsettled

Owners often find that dogs are restless and pace about when they want your urgent attention. If your dog is unsettled and won’t lie down, then you’ll know better than anyone if this is completely out of character for your pet. So, is constant pacing ‘normal’ behavior for your dog?

Why is your dog unsettled and pacing? Your dog could be excited, stressed, bored, hungry or have lost their favorite toy. Dogs can also detect pests in the walls of your home, such as bed bugs and rodents. They may be alerting you. But when a dog won’t settle down, it’s more likely to be due to a physical or mental health problem such as arthritis, cognitive dysfunction, Cushing’s disease, liver disease, or sight loss.

A restless dog is not healthy, relaxed, or contented with life. So, if your dog won’t settle down, they’ll be in discomfort or concerned that something is wrong. The reasons for this behavior are wide-ranging, and there could be more than one explanation for why your dog won’t lie down.

Table of Contents:

Why is My Dog Pacing Back and Forth?

Let’s take a look at the most common reasons why a dog paces around the house. At least one of these explanations will apply to your pet. Once you understand the behavior, you can rectify it.

1) Over-excitement

An excited dog is full of energy. See things from your pet’s perspective. They may not have seen you all day, and now you’re home from work finally. This means they’ll be getting lots of attention, treats, food, and walks. These are among a dog’s favorite things in the world.

Once in a routine, their pacing should calm down. If your dog knows they’ll have their needs met, the restlessness will be reduced. If there is no strict schedule, they’ll remain very excitable.

You should also be careful about the language you use around a dog. Canines live for the moment. If you say, “walkies” to a dog, that means now and not in ten minutes once you’ve washed the dishes.

If you use a word or command that your dog recognizes, they’ll grow excitable and pace around until it finally happens. It’s advisable not to make promises unless you’re ready.

2) Stress, Worry, and Anxiety

Loud noises, such as storms and fireworks, are a common stress trigger for dogs.

Changes in routine, such as staying out late or changes to feeding schedules, can also unsettling.

Perhaps the greatest worry is separation anxiety. Pets do not like to be removed from human company, especially when they’re young. Maybe you’ve been coming home later than usual. Work to build your dog’s trust, and help them understand that you’ll always return home.

If your dog is pacing through stress, try to identify the trigger and eliminate it. Also, scented sprays can calm canine nerves. Calming supplements can also be added to your pet’s meal.

If the problem does not subside, your dog may have an anxiety disorder, seek support from an animal behavioral therapist. If that doesn’t work out, consider anti-anxiety medications.

dog is acting weird and restless

3) Boredom and Lack of Stimulation

If a canine doesn’t know what to do with themselves, they’ll wander up and down, back and forth. A dog cannot read a book or watch TV, so they’ll look for other entertainment.

It’s vital that your dog receives adequate mental stimulation during the day. Walks and trips to the dog park are essential. Taking a dog for a stroll isn’t just exercising their body. They are completely mindful, taking in everything around them.

Don’t drag your dog along in a hurry. Let them stop and sniff whenever they please. This fires up your pet’s brain as they process the different smells. In turn, it tires them out.

Playtime is also a great way to give your dog’s brain a workout. Canines love problem-solving. Just working out how to carry a large stick home or chasing after a ball will be enough.

If your dog didn’t get outside enough, and hasn’t exercised their mind, they’ll grow restless. Don’t allow this to happen. A bored dog will rarely settle for pacing. Eventually, they’ll become destructive.

4) Hear or Smell Something

Dogs have a phenomenal hearing, and senses of smell. This is why they sometimes seem to be staring at the wall and growling at something that isn’t there.

This can also apply to pacing. Your dog may detect mice in your cellar or basement, bugs in your walls, or other smells dogs hate. They will pace around, trying to pinpoint exactly where these infiltrators are. It’s all part of a dog protecting you.

If your dog paces and pauses in a particular spot, pay attention. They have found something, and it will likely benefit you to know what. It may be time to call in a fumigation service.

Of course, it’s also possible that your dog just hears something outside. They may hear another canine barking, or a cat hissing. Just because your human ears can’t pick up on these sounds, it doesn’t mean they’re not there.

This may be making your dog nervous, and lead to pacing. Offer reassurance in such a case, and see if they calm down.

5) Looking for Something They Want

Dogs remember the things that are important to them. They’ll retain knowledge of anything that provides pleasure. Unfortunately, they don’t always remember where they left these items.

A favorite toy is a prime example. Your dog may have misplaced their preferred ball, or a chew toy of choice. They’ll pace around, trying to find it. Dogs can be relentless in such a scenario.

Don’t continually move a dog’s food or water sources for this reason. They’ll grow used to them being in a particular place. Your dog may have hidden a bone or a treat, which you’ve since moved.

Your dog may also be looking for a lost companion, or pining for a missing human. It’s no secret that canines forge deep emotional bonds. If another pet has passed away, they may not understand.

6) Uncomfortable in Their Bed

There are various reasons why a dog may no longer feel comfortable in their bed. It could have become old and tattered, with the cushions no longer offering support. They may be cold. It may even have been tarnished with the smell of cat.

If your dog seems to have lost interest in their bed, make it appealing again for them. Fill it with soft toys. Add a hot water bottle for warmth. Replace any cushions for additional padding.

Your dog will want a cozy and comfortable place to sleep. They will not reject their bed without reason. This pacing is a symptom of frustration. They want to curl up for the night, but are struggling to do so.

Of course, another explanation may be that you let the dog into your own bed. Consistency is essential for pets. If you allowed your dog to sleep with you once, they’d expect to do so all the time.

Dogs do not understand that you only wanted their company temporarily. Once they’ve tasted the high life of sleeping on a human bed, they may reject their own.

dog restless and hungry

7) In Heat

If your dog is an unspayed female, she will enter heat every six months. This cycle will last for around three weeks, and your dog will be restless throughout.

Your pet will pace constantly, unable to settle. They’ll want to go outside regularly, and will attract unfixed males on every walk.

The only way to prevent this is to spay your dog. The ASPCA lists low-cost providers of this service in your area. If that’s not an option, you’ll need to grin and bear the symptoms.

Just be aware that a dog in heat undergoes some personality changes. Increased dominance aggression is the most notable. If you have multiple pets, this can cause friction in the home.

8) Hunger

Sometimes, your dog may be looking for food. If you have missed a mealtime, this is likely. Dogs are creatures of habit, and their stomachs will rumble if their schedule is tampered with.

As canines are natural hunters, your dog may take matters into their own hands. They’ll sniff and search around, looking for nourishment. This could be crumbs on the floor, or even bugs.

Your dog may also have buried food in case of this scenario. Small dogs, in particular, will hide treats if they’re not hungry. Your dog may be looking for the snack they squirreled away days, or even weeks, ago.

This behavior can become dangerous. If a dog gets hungry enough, they’ll eat anything. This can cause problems. It’s advisable to stick to a strict feeding schedule.

You may notice that your dog starts pacing more in the winter. This is because dogs are typically hungrier in cool temperatures. They burn more calories just staying warm.

When winter arrives, increase your dog’s daily food intake by around 10%.  Also, encourage them to exercise more at some times, or they’ll gain weight. More food will keep your pet full and content, though, and minimize pacing and hunting.

9) Poor Diet and Nutrition

Dogs can be as susceptible to ‘sugar highs.’ Unfortunately, low-quality dog food and treats are packed with sugar. This will make your dog excitable, and leave them with energy to burn.

This will pass. Eventually, your dog’s body burn will burn off sugar, and they’ll relax. It’s awkward for owner and pet until this happens, though. Also, sugar can be harmful to dogs. Obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay are all likely.

Choosing the right food for your dog is one of the most important parts of pet parenting. Check the Merck Veterinary Manual for advice on a canine’s nutritional needs.

Learn whether your dog prefers wet or dry food, and pick up the best that you can afford. The food should primarily contain animal products, and not too much filler. Every dog has different needs and priorities.

Treats must also be taken into consideration, and fed in moderation. Avoid sugary biscuits wherever possible. Most dogs will consider any food to be a treat. This means you can stick to fresh meats.

10) Insufficient Exercise

Every dog has varying exercise needs. If they’re not met, the dog will become frustrated. No dog can settle if they have excess energy to burn. As a minimum, dogs need at least 30 minutes of physical activity a day. Some dogs need as much as two hours, though.

This exercise should be more than just a gentle walk, unless your dog is elderly. Canines love to run. Take your pet to the park with their ball, and let them open up. The more cardio your dog enjoys, the more exhausted and content they’ll be.

If you have run the legs off your pet and they’re still restless, there is something else amiss. This will need particular attention. A dog that wants to rest, but can’t, will become distressed.

In many cases, though, physical and mental exercise will resolve a dog’s desire to pace.

11) They Want Your Attention

Sometimes, a dog’s aimless wandering is nothing more than attention seeking. This largely depends on exactly how you react when your dog begins their travels.

Ignoring your dog is risky. They may well have a severe medical concern. Time may be of the essence. On the other hand, dogs are smart. Once they realize that pacing equals attention, they’ll turn this to their advantage.

dog running around erratically

One thing is certain; a dog should never be scolded for pacing around the home. They will be wandering around for a reason, even if that’s just trying to attract attention.

Let your dog pace for a minute or two. If they stop and settle down, they were likely trying their luck. If it continues, and you cannot find any other explanation, question why they’re so keen to get your attention.

The most common explanation may be that they need the bathroom. They can’t take care of this business without your help. Offer them a walk and see if this helps. If you use a specific word for elimination, so much the better.

If this is not the reason and your dog wants some petting, that’s fine too. Dogs are part of the family, after all. Your pet may be feeling a little insecure Reassure them. It won’t take long, and you’ll enjoy innumerable rewards.

12) Pain and Discomfort

An old dog pacing back and forth may have arthritis. Larger breeds of dog are particularly prone to this condition. This is because they carry more weight. As a result, their joints experience more significant wear and tear over time.

Canine arthritis is painful, and it cannot be cured. Thankfully, though, it can be managed. With some lifestyle changes, medication and supplements, you can make your dog more comfortable. To restrict the impact of arthritis on your pet:

  • Ensure they are an appropriate body weight. PetMD has a helpful calculator to aid you in judging this.
  • Keep your dog active. No exercise at all will magnify your dog’s discomfort. Don’t push them too far either, though.
  • Pick up some supplements to help your dog. Any pet store will be filled with over-the-counter remedies for arthritis.
  • Regularly massage your dog to alleviate any pain and keep their joints supple.
  • Ensure that your dog has a soft, comfortable bed. Adding a hot water bottle on cold days will also soothe discomfort.

If things do not improve, consult a vet. They will be able to prescribe painkilling medication for your dog. In many instances, though, this will not be necessary. Management of canine arthritis primarily takes place at home.

If your dog is not arthritic, consider whether their pain has a different cause. Look out for any signs of limping. They may have injured themselves while exercising.

Dogs are capable of pulling muscles, and or they may even have a minor fracture. X-rays can identify these injuries. A professional will prescribe painkillers, and a leg splint or cast if required.

13) Liver Disease

When a dog has issues with their liver, they are unable to filter toxins appropriately.

Pacing is a side effect of this pain. It will often manifest as gastrointestinal issues. Your dog will lose their appetite, and lose weight at an alarming rate. Muscle weakness will also frequently occur, and your dog will become lethargic.

Liver disease can become fatal if left untreated. Thankfully, it can be managed through dietary changes and medication. Make sure that your dog checked over once a year by a vet.

Liver problems are not always a gradual process, though. Ingesting toxins and poisons can cause acute liver failure. In such a circumstance, your dog will need urgent medical attention. The toxins must be flushed out.

14) Cushing’s Disease

If your dog keeps panting and won’t settle, you need to consider that she may have Cushing’s disease.

Cushing’s disease is a condition that affects senior canines. Also known as hyperadrenocorticism, Cushing’s disease is caused by the body creating an excess of cortisol.

Cortisol is the stress hormone, which means that a dog with Cushing’s disease will be continuously agitated. This will, naturally, lead to them pacing around the home.

Other symptoms include excessive thirst, a constant need to urinate (especially at night), panting, and weight gain. Treatment relies upon gaining a formal diagnosis, which can be tricky. This issue shares symptoms with many, lesser ailments.

Most often, Cushing’s disease is caused by a growth on the pituitary gland. A scan will detect this. If this applies to your dog, further tests will be required. If the growth can be shrunk, or surgically removed, a vet may recommend this.

If your dog is diagnosed with Cushing’s disease, they’ll usually be prescribed oral medication. Be warned. These pills are expensive, and they’ll be required for the remainder of your pet’s life.

dog is restless and won't sit still

15) Neurological Tumors

This is something of an apocalypse scenario, but it’s sadly a possibility. On some rare occasions, dogs can develop brain tumors. If these are to manifest, they usually do so in older canines. Aside from pacing, the symptoms of brain tumors in dogs include:

  • Strange behavior, including uncharacteristic aggression.
  • An uncoordinated gait, leading to walking in circles and becoming clumsy.
  • Loss of eyesight or hearing.
  • Excessive panting.
  • Sudden seizures and muscle tremors.

If you are worried that your dog has a brain tumor, get them a scan without delay. The prognosis for a dog with a brain tumor varies on its severity. Euthanasia is sometimes the most humane option. If the tumor is small enough, and you have appropriate insurance, surgery may be an option.

16) Senility

A common explanation for an elderly dog pacing is dementia. Canine cognitive dysfunction is an equivalent of Alzheimer’s disease. It can take hold in dogs that are well into double figures in age.

Elderly dogs becoming restless at night is a warning sign of dementia. Your pet’s sleep-wake cycle will be reversed, and they’ll grow distressed at night. It’s dark, it’s quiet, and the dog is wondering why their human family is ignoring them. Other symptoms of canine senility include:

  • Staring into space, or at walls, for hours on end.
  • Behaving aggressively, and experiencing mood swings.
  • Excessive licking and grooming.
  • Becoming clingy, with separation anxiety becoming much more pronounced.
  • Incontinence – both urinary and fecal.
  • Seemingly becoming confused in familiar surroundings.
  • Not appearing to recognize their humans.
  • Ignoring or disregarding established commands.

Canine cognitive dysfunction cannot be cured, sadly. It also has a detrimental impact on a dog’s quality of life, and your relationship with your pet. Thankfully, the degeneration of your dog can be slowed down.

Early intervention is key. The moment your older dog starts to behave strangely, get them checked by a professional. Any dog older than 11 years could be at risk. If the dog is older than 15, the likelihood rises substantially.

To stave off senility, keep your dog’s mind active. They more mental stimulation they enjoy, the slower their decline will be. That means plenty of attention and play. Consider providing treat-dispensing puzzles, too.

Diet is also pivotal. Older dogs must be fed senior-specific food. This will contain what they need to maintain cognitive performance. Any pet store will also stock supplements to further boost your pet’s brain.

17) Sight Loss

If your dog is losing their eyesight, they’ll pace around a lot more. There are two primary explanations for this.

The first is obvious – they’re nervous about this change. They will understand that they cannot see as well as they did. That’s obviously frightening.

In addition to this fear, though, practicality will also kick in. Your dog will start pacing to ensure they memorize the layout of the house. That way, they’ll be less reliant on their eyesight in the future.

You should not change the location of furniture in the home of a blind dog. If you leave things familiar, they’ll adapt surprisingly quickly.

If you’re worried about your dog’s eyesight, Pet Helpful suggests tests you can run at home.

  • Watch them negotiate basic obstacles, like the staircase or jumping on furniture. If they’re uncharacteristically tentative, it’s likely a vision problem.
  • Shine a torch in your dog’s eyes. Not bright enough to hurt them – just enough to make them blink. If they fail to do so, they didn’t detect the light.
  • Drop something light in front of your dog, such as a cotton ball. A dog’s natural instinct will be to react if they see this. They’ll hunt the object, or at least give it a sniff.

If your dog is losing their eyesight, they can still live a long and happy life. Dogs rely on their hearing and sense of smell more than their eyes. You’ll have to make some lifestyle adjustments.

“Why does my dog keep walking around the house?” is a common question. Almost every dog owner will likely need to answer it at some stage. The potential explanations we have listed will explain the behavior.

Once you have found an explanation for your dog’s wanderlust, take action as quickly as possible. Your pet isn’t pacing to annoy you. They will likely have a severe issue.

Finding the right treatment will benefit everybody. Your dog will find peace, and you’ll be able to relax. Once the problem is resolved, you can go back to enjoying your pet’s company and affection.