Just how pacing in humans is often associated with restlessness or anxiety, dogs might begin pacing if feeling anxious or experiencing stress. In most cases, dog pacing is not a serious health issue — rather, merely a behavioral response to general nervousness or anxiety.
“When a dog paces they are usually walking back and forth from one spot to another,” says Dr. Sara Ochoa, DVM. “Sometimes they will just be walking around the house without a destination in mind.”
Dogs might pace while waiting for someone or something — like for a family member to come home or waiting for mealtime. Some dogs pace for awhile with a high-value toy or treat in their mouth and may even whine. Because dog pacing isn’t technically a medical issue, “treatment” is all about helping your dog feel more comfortable. The more comfortable a dog is, the less likely he is to feel anxious. If the anxiety is targeted and treated, then the dog might stop pacing.
“It is easy to identify a dog who has a pacing problem. A dog is pacing when she is walking back and forth in a repetitive pattern,” says Amanda Gagnon, certified professional dog trainer and graduate researcher of anthrozoology at Canisius College. “When pacing occurs for a short period of time, it is nothing to worry about. However, if a dog paces for an extended length of time or cannot be deterred from the activity, it may be time to call a professional dog trainer.”
Some kinds of pacing are considered normal and most can be treated with the help of a training specialist, who can provide easy solutions to distract the dog and discourage pacing.
“Normal dog pacing is usually caused by excitement, the need for attention or an alert to something unusual in the environment,” says Kristen Papile-Kranjc, CMDT, of Long Island Canine Class. “This type of pacing can be addressed by a dog trainer or behavioral specialist. Distraction techniques such as giving the dog a high-value toy or bone that he doesn’t see often to keep him busy, playing with your dog or taking him out for a walk are some simple solutions.”
Why does dog pacing happen?
According to Dr. Ochoa, pacing in dogs is generally caused by stress or anxiety. However, sources of anxiety and stress could be a variety of things: trips to the vet, waiting for someone or something to happen, having to pee or poop, or general restlessness.
“Most dogs will pace at home or at the vet clinic,” Dr. Ochoa explains. “At home, they may pace back and forth near the front door waiting for a family member to come home. They may pace near the back door when they need to go out and potty.”
The vet’s office is often a source of stress for dogs — you know, shots and other weird instruments, and whatnot. This can cause some stressed dogs to respond by pacing.
“At the veterinary clinic, dogs will pace when they want to go home,” Dr. Ochoa adds. “I see dogs who do not like to be at the vet. They will pace back and forth in the exam room or the waiting room the whole time they are there.”
The older the dog, the more likely they are to develop pacing behaviors. In older dogs, pacing could be a sign of dementia.
“As some dogs age, they start pacing around the house and act more stressed due to them not always knowing where they are,” Dr. Ochoa adds. “We do see signs similar to dementia in dogs and as they age, they will begin to pace more.”
Pacing can also be an early sign of some medical issues that require immediate treatment. According to Dr. Jason Nicholas, author of 101 Essential Tips: Dog Health & Safety, pacing can indicate a bloating issue.
“If your dog’s stomach is bloated, or if they’re anxious, pacing, or repeatedly trying to vomit with no luck, they are likely suffering from Gastric Dilation and Volvulus (GDV) – also known as dog bloat,” Dr. Nicholas explains. “Dogs affected by bloat will have a difficult time getting comfortable and lying down. Pacing and restless is often one of the most obvious and early signs, so pay attention to it.”
Dogs can pace for a variety of other reasons, too; stress, anxiety, and bloat aren’t the only causes.
“Dogs will also pace because they are bored or carry excessive energy,” says Gagnon. “Less common reasons for pacing are mating behaviors, attention-seeking behaviors and medical issues. Humans can often determine whether a trip to the vet is needed by attending to other accompanying symptoms such as lethargy, mood changes and loss of appetite.”
How to help your pacing dog
Pinpointing the cause of your dog’s pacing is important to helping your pet. If your dog is carrying excess energy or suffering from boredom, Gagnon says it’s an easy fix.
“This is easily fixed by adding exercise and mental stimulation to the dog’s daily routine,” Gagnon explains.
Or if your dog is pacing as a way to patrol their yard, Gagnon recommends limiting their yard time.
“Some dogs, particularly dogs who spend their day in a yard, develop a habit of pacing as a way of patrolling the boundary of their yard,” Gagnon adds. “This behavior is best prevented by limiting the amount of time the dog spends along in the yard without their humans.”
For dogs who pace because of stress and anxiety, Gagnon recommends training classes.
“Stress and anxiety often require the assistance of a professional trainer to remedy,” she says.
Other remedies for treating stress-induced pacing include showing your dog that everything’s okay.
“If your dog is pacing because they are waiting for someone to come home, helping calm them or letting them out to play will help with the pacing at home. If it is due to aging, there are supplements that you can give your dog to help with the anxiety,” says Dr. Ochoa. “At the vet clinic, you can give your pet treats and help show them that it is an okay place to be.”
In all cases though, Dr. Ochoa says knowing your dog’s pacing triggers is the biggest way to help. “If you know what causes your pet to pace, you can avoid the situations. Sometimes you cannot avoid these situations, or the pacing is due to your dog getting older. There are supplements that you can give your dog to help with anxiety and stress.”
Because so many different factors can influence pacing in dogs, Papile-Kranjc says the best advice is knowing your dog’s normal behavior. Anything unusual might warrant a visit to the veterinarian’s office.
“Pacing can also be a symptom of a health issue due to a disorder, advanced age or illness,” Papile-Kranjc explains. “Know your dog. Be familiar with your dog’s behavior and also keep current with his veterinary care. Anything sudden or out of the ordinary to his regular behavior that is not alleviated by training or behavior modification techniques should be addressed by a veterinarian.”
How do you address dog pacing with your pets? Let us know in the comments below!
Top photograph: Vincent Scherer/Getty Images
31 thoughts on “Dog Pacing – Why It Happens and How to Help Your Pacing Dog”
Our daughter's dog is over 12 yrs old; she paces but seems otherwise not stressed during her stay with us. She paces at her home as well and it appears more to me that it is an effort for her to get more exercise and it just feels good to pace. Once we decided it is not a problem we aren't as bothered by her pacing.
Thanks for the tip; sounds worth a try if I can’t find an underlying cause for Jasmine’s pacing.
The dog firstly showed a lot of affection. Then started pacing. He then attacked our other two dogs and drew blood. Shortly after he had a pet riding lip. He avoids water and won't eat. The vet said the lip maybe due to the fight. Said that the results showed no health issue. We have been given glucose mouth wash beterdine and royal canning food that we syringe into the mouth. We have had to isolate him he has shown no further aggression but still paces. What advice can yo give me to help
My dog started pacing after getting into a fight. It’s been five days since the fight and three since the first panic attack. The panic attacks first started during our walks, which is when the fight occurred. I had him leashed while the other dog was off leash and came up to us.
We are now able to walk without him freezing, but just now he woke up and started pacing, panting, shaking and walking backwards. I tried to distract him with play. It somewhat tired him out. Not sure if this was the right move to have done.
Hey guys we have a beautiful 8 month Rhodesian Ridgeback pure bread. He’s been amazing until recently. He paces and cry’s. It’s early every morning. Or when we are having dinner and we put him in his space of the house. Which is a big space. Or it happened again yesterday when we had to put him in the house because outside we are doing escalating and had a dingo. I’m thinking it for attention. I could be wrong. We do not reward this behaviour by going to him. This is what we were told. We go to him when he stops. I also think it might be too much energy in him. We walk him everyday and take him to a park 3x a week. He also has a large space around our house to run around. We are on 1/3 acre. What should we do?
My dog paces when she has to use the restroom or wants to play
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Thanks for an informative and helpful article!
CBD oil is very effective when my 15-yr dog paces. Whether the pacing is due to dementia or from pain due to arthritis, the CBD oil helps him get comfortable again.
what are you using?
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Very informative. Thank you. I have 2 samoyeds and live in an apartment. My dogs are fantastic. Staft day out with long walk and playing with squeaky ball. ( 1 hr) and in the house till late afternoon . they chill oit and sleep then oit around 9-10. Found that continued attention ( when out) and lots of love) On weekends take them too trails. Have never had a problem. Truly a delight and unadulterated have made me the happiest. Grew up with dogs but since I have samoyeds Won’t own another breed cuz they are so loving, kind and funny. Make terrible watch dogs. Love too much. … sundaycarey719 @ gmail..com.
For those of us with actual problems with pacing dogs, this really is a pointless response. What you are doing isn’t any different than what I do with my hound but still he still paces. It’s tiresome when people come to a website for help then see someone who doesn’t even have the problem thinking they know the solution.
So were you actually able to find practical/applicable solutions? Would be good to know if you could share with us what you did to reduce pacing in your dog.