Why Dogs Love to Roll in Smelly Stuff
by Ron Kurtus (revised 6 May 2008)
One form of dog behavior that owners dislike is when the animal will roll in something smelly.
Although dogs may sometimes roll in the grass, a pile of autumn leaves or the snow in winter because it simply feels good, rolling on the carcass of a dead animal, feces or something else smelly has instinctive roots, perhaps going back to wolves and wild dogs.
There are several theories on why a dog will roll in something smelly. Although there is a temptation to scold your dog, it is best to realize it is natural behavior and make sure your pet doesn't have the opportunity to roll in stuff.
Questions you may have include:
- What is an example of a dog rolling in something smelly?
- Why do they want to roll in smelly things?
- What to do about this behavior?
This lesson will answer those questions.
Many people who have dogs have the unpleasant experience of catching their dog rolling in something that smells awful. But there are also times when the dog may simply roll in the grass for fun. Observing what your dog does, as well as what others do, will help you understand its behavior and is part of that topic of study.
Experience with smelly rolling
When our Golden Retriever was about a year old, we brought her to a small Wisconsin lake. She was roaming around freely and went into some bushes. I was wonder what she was doing there, so I took a look. There she was, rolling on a dead fish that someone had thrown into the bushes. That fish must have been there for days, because did it ever stink!
We were gagging in the car throughout the trip home, even with all the windows open. It took a good bath and plenty of scrubbing to get that smell out of her fur.
Since then, I've always kept an eye out for any random animal feces or anything else that is smelly and tempting to her.
As our dog got older, rolling in something smelly was not such an issue.
When we would put her out in the yard, she would immediately roll in the grass. But it seemed for pleasure or because her back was itchy. I checked to see if she was rolling in rabbit droppings or something, and also smelled her back for odor, but typically there was no problem. Of course, my sense of smell does not compare with that of a dog, so there could have been something in the grass that I couldn't detect but she could.
In the winter, rolling in the snow was obviously for the good feeling and pleasure of the act.
Reasons they do it
There are a variety of reasons and theories why a dog will roll in something that smells bad. But first of all, you must realize that what smells bad to humans may not smell so bad to a dog.
Cover up perfume
Sometimes dogs will roll in the grass or in something smelly right after getting a bath. Some dog shampoos have perfumes that may be pleasant to humans but smell awful to the animal. It is just an effort to mask the unpleasant and un-dog-like odor.
Mask own scent for hunting
The major theory why dogs will roll in smelly material is based on the relationship of domesticated canines to wolves.
Wolves will often roll in decomposing carcasses or the feces of plant eating animals or herbivores. This would mask their own scent and enable them to sneak up on their prey without detection. It could even fool members of the other species into accepting it as one of their own. This ancient instinct may have carried over to domesticated dogs.
Working and hunting dogs tend to roll in smelly stuff more often than other breeds. Perhaps this is because they are more closely related to wolves.
Advertise to the pack
Another school for thought is that dogs may roll in feces or a dead animal's remains to "advertise" what they have found to other members of the pack. Rolling in the material is a way for your dog to let you know that it found something interesting.
Mmm, that smells good! What was he rolling in?
Male dogs will urinate on a tree or post and females will urinate near the object. They do this as either to mark their territory or as a way to communicate concerning who has been there. Likewise, one theory is that the dog is claiming a carcass or remains as its own by rolling on it and imparting its own scent onto the object. One problem with this theory is that it seems a stretch in the case of rolling in an other animal's feces.
Rolling in their own feces or that of another dog is not as common of a behavior. The dog do this as a way to get attention. Or it may be some sort of distorted behavior, perhaps due to stress or other problems.
What to do
Although rolling in something smelly is not desirable behavior, you should not punish the dog for doing what is only natural. It is better to try to prevent the chances of the behavior by keeping an eye on your pet. Fortunately, the behavior seems to diminish as the dog gets more mature.
Also, if it happens after a bath, you might try a different, unscented shampoo.
Dogs that roll in dog feces or their own may be seeking more attention and just doing something like that to get some sort of attention.
Owners dislike it when their dog rolls in something smelly. Although dogs may sometimes roll in the grass because it feels good, rolling on the carcass of a dead animal, feces or something else smelly has instinctive roots, perhaps going back to wolves. There are several theories on why a dog will roll in something smelly. Although there is a temptation to scold your dog, it is best to realize it is natural behavior and make sure your pet doesn't have the opportunity to roll in smelly stuff.
Dogs do the strangest things
Resources and references
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Why Dogs Love to Roll in Smelly Stuff