Chances are, you have observed your dog rolling in the grass for no apparent reason. Whether its the grass in the park or the carpet in your living room, this strange rubbing behavior can seem very random and pointless.
However, rolling in the grass is perhaps one of the most normal of all dog behaviors. It is also one of the most multi-functional dog behaviors, serving quite a few different purposes.
Although a lot of research has been conducted regarding dogs and their habits, very little research has been done on this particular subject. This may be due to the fact that no one cares enough to do a study on the subject.
Thus, we will try to give you as much information as possible regarding this issue, so that you can come to a clear and accurate understanding of what this behavior is and why your dog does it so much.
Dogs Roll in the Grass to Stay Clean
As you probably know, dogs don’t like bath time very much. They whine and whimper, they give you the “puppy-eyes,” and if you turn your back, they might jump out of the tub and run. So, how do they stay clean in the wild?
In the wild, dogs will normally roll in the grass as a way to stay clean. It’s no different from the practice of wiping your shoes in the grass before you come into the house. It’s a way to quickly remove mud, loose dirt, and other debris.
That isn’t to say that dogs won’t jump in the water once in a while. Some breeds, like Labradors, love the water and will gladly jump in for a bath. However, even the water-dog breeds seem to look at water as fun rather than grooming.
Sometimes, a dog will roll in the grass to cover up an unpleasant scent. For instance, a dog that has just been bathed with shampoo will often go out in the yard and roll around on the grass.
This means that they are trying to remove a scent that they don’t like. The same behavior has been observed from dogs who were sprayed by a skunk. After all, the easiest way to get rid of a scent is to cover it up with another scent.
Dogs Roll in the Grass to Mark Their Territory
Rolling and rubbing behaviors are very much associated with the territorial drive. Like most predators, dogs fully understand the concept of territory. Rolling in the grass is one of the many manifestations of this understanding.
Don’t forget that a dog’s nose is many times more sensitive than our own. A smell that we wouldn’t even recognize might be quite overwhelming for them. A dog can literally smell for miles, so imagine how much they can smell when they are up close?
When a dog rubs its body against a certain spot, they are leaving their scent as a marker for other dogs to find. This will tell another dog that they are in the area. In other words, this is an example of a primitive communication method.
But what are they communicating? Well, a dog can obviously tell the scent of a male from the scent of a female. So, if a male dog smells another male dog, he knows that he cannot venture into this territory without being challenged.
The same applies to a female when it finds the scent of another female. When a dog smells a dog of the opposite sex, the scent will usually act as a beacon that brings them together to mate.
Dogs Roll in the Grass as a Hunting Behavior
Research has shown that wolves in the wild will often rub the scent of their prey on themselves. If they are tracking by smell, as they often do, and they come across the scent of prey, they will often roll in the spot.
Once the other wolves smell the hunters, they know what kind of prey they are after. This makes it easier for the pack to act in a coordinated fashion. In essence, the hunters are taking the scent with them in order to show it to the pack.
The scent also serves camouflage purposes. As any hunter will tell you, you need to mask your scent if you expect to have any hope of success. Deer, for instance, can smell a human from an entire mile away. Disguising your scent is imperative.
This is an old hunting trick, and I would wager that humans learned it from dogs. By making yourself to smell like the prey animal, you make it easier to sneak up on them and strike from a close distance. This means less of a chase for the wolf.
Without this little “hunting hack,” dogs would have to expend a lot more energy in acquiring food. That wouldn’t be a good survival strategy. By learning to use scent as a tool, dogs learned how to make their hunting much quicker and easier.
Dogs Roll in the Grass to Scratch Themselves
In many cases, dogs roll around on the ground for no other reason than to scratch an itch. While dogs can scratch or nibble most parts of their body, there are certain spots on their back that they just cannot reach.
If a dog has an itchy place on their back, rolling against a rough surface is pretty much the only option that they have. You would most likely do the same thing in their position. Sometimes, this rolling behavior is nothing more than a good scratch.
Of course, you should keep an eye on this behavior. If your dog is doing this very frequently, you can be almost certain that your dog has fleas. If they are doing a lot of scratching in general, this further confirms the presence of parasites.
If your dog is scratching only their rear end on the ground (or carpet), that is a telltale sign of serious worm infestation. When a dog is doing this, it is mainly because their anal area is badly irritated due to the presence of worms.
Your dog could also be itchy due to the presence of a skin infection. Minor skin infections are semi-common in dogs, and can usually be treated with a sulfur-based medication.
For demodectic mange, characterized by large pus-filled sores, I have a trick to share with you. Get some sulfur from the garden store, mix it with a plain unscented lotion, and use this as an ointment. This remedy is both safe and effective.
Dogs Roll in the Grass for Purposes of Social Bonding
In a pack of wild canines, the pack will often try to “share” their scent by rubbing against one another and rolling on the ground. They will also sometimes roll in urine or feces for this purpose. While this may be disgusting, it does have a function.
The idea is to try and create a pack scent, which is distinctive from the individual scents of each member animal. By mixing their scent, the pack gains a unique smell. This helps the pack to identify their kin with greater ease.
Researchers have often noticed wolves rolling in the scents of other dogs as a way to ask for membership in a pack. By adopting the scent of the pack, they seek to become one with the pack. For a creature as dependent on smell as a dog, this is a good strategy.
Dogs Roll in the Grass Because They Enjoy It
In some cases, it is important not to over-analyze the things that dogs do for fun. In some cases, dogs might just find it enjoyable to roll around in the grass on a nice summer day.
An excited dog will sometimes do all manner of random things, just because they are happy and giddy and having a good time. By itself with no other indicators, this behavior could be nothing more than good innocent canine fun.
After all, anyone could look at a dog rolling in the grass and see that they are having fun. Their tail is wagging, their tongue is hanging out, and they have that look in their eyes that just screams “Yay!”
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There are one or two negatives to this behavior. The biggest one comes in the form of ticks, fleas, and other parasites. Rolling in the grass will make your dog more likely to be exposed to various bugs.
If you live in an area with a lot of venomous animals, you should also discourage this behavior. It may make you feel bad to stop your dog from fulfilling their natural drives, but you don’t have a choice if poisonous snakes or venomous insects are common in your area.
If your dog is dealing with serious flea or tick issues, or if their health is sensitive, you might want to try and limit this behavior. Over the centuries, parasites have obviously learned to target dogs in response to rolling behavior.
Also, in some areas, there could be a danger of exposing your dog to dangerous waste. For instance, if you live in a concentrated urban area, you should probably discourage this behavior. Why? Broken glass, rusty nails, jagged metal, and other hazardous waste.
When it comes down to it, there is no one right answer for the question of why dogs roll in the grass. As we noted before, relatively little research exists on the subject. Thus, no one really knows for sure why dogs roll in the grass so much.
After all, how could we know, unless we found a way to read a dog’s mind? At present, the above answers are the best guesses that anyone has made. All of them are educated guesses based on known facts, but in the end, no one knows for sure.
We hope that this article has given you some insight into the mentality of your dog. We also hope that you will come away with a better understanding of this incredibly common and multi-functional behavior.
"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret