When you watch your dog rolling around in something smelly, like feces or a dead animal or something, there is a natural tendency to recoil in horror. After all, dogs are such cute and loveable creatures that it’s hard to imagine them doing something so nasty!
For whatever reason, this behavior is common to many dogs. The first thing to understand about this behavior is that no one really understands why they roll in poop and other disgusting things. However, there are many viable theories.
Since we can not give you a single definite cause, we will present what we feel to be the most sensible and viable theories. We will also focus a little bit on practical measures that can be employed when this behavior becomes a problem.
Is This Behavior a Major Problem?
This behavior is always a minor problem. You can’t bring your dog home covered in feces, and you certainly don’t want to bring them in your house. A dog that is covered in poo may only require a quick spray with the garden hose to remove that filth.
However, dogs will sometimes roll in a nasty substance until their fur is thickly matted, and this is when it will take a little longer to wash it out. My advice is to get some rubber gloves and a dog brush. Brush and spray until the water is no longer brown.
In most cases, cleaning up is the only significant problem. If your dog has rolled in a dead animal, it might be a little harder to remove the smell. A solution of baking soda does a good job of neutralizing bad smells like the stench of a rotten corpse.
Some dog owners recommend the use of tomato juice or ketchup for removing horrendous odors. When it comes to the smell of a skunk, this is a time-honored home remedy that usually works quite well.
In some cases, this behavior can lead to serious problems. By rolling in filthy substances, dogs are inadvertently contributing to the spread of disease. In some cases, dogs have been found to transmit diseases to humans in this way.
The short answer to the question posed in this section is: This behavior is only a serious problem if you do not clean the dog thoroughly after they have rolled in filth.
This Behavior Is Probably Related to Scent-Based Communication
For a canine, smell-cue is the most common method of communication. For instance, when a female goes into heat, she doesn’t make any audible noises that tell the other dogs that she’s ready to mate. Everything is signaled by a change in scent.
This is just one of the ways in which canines use scent to communicate with one another. As such, rolling in a scent to “collect” it would seem to make sense. By grabbing the scent and taking it along, a wild dog can share it with the whole pack.
Dogs May Do This as a Hunting Behavior
This is the most common theory as to why dogs feel compelled to roll in filthy things. If a pack of wild canines is having a hard time finding food, they will often split up and hunt in smaller groups. Sometimes, they may even hunt alone.
If a solo dog or a small group makes a kill or otherwise finds some food, they need a way to let the rest of the pack know what they have found. So, they roll in the scent of the animal, or they roll in its feces.
According to this theory, filth-rolling behavior is just a simple form of communication between hunters. When the other dogs smell (for instance) the scent of a dead deer on their comrade, they know what he has found.
As such, this gives wild canines an easy way to bring the entire pack to a feast if they have managed to kill a large animal on their own. Like many of a dog’s natural behaviors, this one probably does come down to their cooperative hunting instincts.
All good hunters know that you don’t go into the woods until you have done something to cover your distinctive human scent. If you don’t do this, animals will literally smell you from a mile away, and your hunting will be fruitless and frustrating.
Dogs have apparently learned this lesson as well, as they have often been observed rolling in the scents of other animals before a hunt. By rolling in the scent of a prey animal, they are able to camouflage their scent very effectively.
Dogs May Do This as a Territorial Behavior
Another theory about this behavior is the idea that dogs roll in smelly substances as a way to mark their territory. The idea would seem to make sense on the face of it: the basic premise is that you can mark more territory with a stronger smell.
However, there is one big problem with this theory. Although rolling in feces or carrion will certainly make a dog smell more strongly, the scent will not be their own. It will be the scent of whatever creature they more recently found.
This means that rolling in the scent of a prey animal would actually attract other predators rather than warning them away. For this reason, I find it highly doubtful that filth-rolling would be a territorial behavior.
That being said, it is always possible that I do not have all the information, so don’t discount this theory entirely. With the incredibly sensitive nose that a dog possesses, they may be able to smell through these attempts at scent-masking.
Dogs May Do This for Protection from Larger Predators
Sometimes, dogs have been observed rolling in the scents of other predators. Obviously, this would be useless as a form of scent camouflage. However, let’s not forget that there are many predators out there who are larger and more dangerous than a dog or even a wolf.
When a wild canine rolls in the scat of a larger predator, it serves the purpose of tricking other large predators. When any animal smells a larger predator, their natural reaction will be to avoid the area. Thus, this trick can be used as a scent bluff.
In most cases, a larger predator such as a bear or a mountain lion will smell another large predator and will decide to play it safe. If the bluff is called, however, the dog must be ready to beat a hasty retreat.
In some instances, foxes have been observed covering themselves in the spoor of coyotes and other larger canines. Since coyotes will often compete with foxes for hunting and scavenging rights, it makes sense that the fox would imitate its larger cousin.
Dogs May Just like the Scent of Poop
In spite of all our efforts to understand this disgusting behavior, it might be that dogs just like the smell of poop. In general, dogs seem to love smells that we find to be disgusting.
Garbage? A dog sees that as a food source. Feces? Also a possible food source, or at least something fun in which to roll. Urine? To be smelled as often as possible — even if it’s on your carpet. It may be gross to us, but dogs do genuinely seem to like these smells.
This may be a natural mechanism that helps the dog to deal with the extreme sensitivity of its nose. The dog has an incredibly complex and sensitive nose. In fact, it is one of the most sensitive noses found anywhere in nature.
Dogs possess up to 300 million olfactory receptors in their noses, which means that they can smell things that we cannot even imagine smelling. It’s no wonder that dogs are often used for tracking and advanced detection.
So, with that hyper-sensitive nose, it is actually helpful if you like the smell of poop. If you hated it, your abnormally strong nose would overwhelm you. A dogs’ sense of smell is estimated to be about forty times greater than our own.
Think about how you recoiled and gagged the last time you had to smell a big pile of fresh poop. Now imagine that multiplied by a factor of 40. That is what a dog would be going through on a regular basis if they didn’t learn to like these nasty scents.
So, is it not true that humans often make perfume out of scents that we like? Some have theorized that dogs use feces and carrion as a way to give themselves a scent that is pleasing to themselves and other dogs. Revolting, but definitely possible.
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How Can I Discourage My Dog from Rolling in Poop?
Although this can be a very hard behavior to prevent, it is a relatively easy behavior to correct. All you really have to do is observe the behavior and correct the dog immediately. However, it will take some work and attention on your part.
One good step is to limit the ability of other animals to access your yard. It is very hard to prevent small animals like squirrels and chipmunks from entering the yard, but larger animals can often be kept out with good fences and (possibly) some pest control.
You may consider the use of automatic motion-activated sprinklers along the border of your yard, which will deter all but the most determined animals. It even works well against smaller animals. Of course, this solution isn’t exactly cheap.
Remember, the dog cannot roll in the poop if there is no poop in which to roll. However, some situations will not allow an owner to prevent other animals from fouling the yard completely. For this, you will have to use discipline.
Walk your dog through the yard on a leash. When you can see that they are about to roll in poop or something equally nasty, stop them and scold them. Use the command “leave it,” so that the dog clearly understands that this pile of filth is off-limits.
It may take a few “accidents” before you come to understand the physical tells that your dog gives before rolling in poo. Chances are, they will give some kind of physical signal such as excessive sniffing or slowly rotating their head to one side.
If your dog restrains themselves at your command, give them a reward. This could be a
Some dog owners have found that a spray of perfume will stop a dog from rolling in poo. This would seem to confirm the idea that dogs roll around in bad-smelling things because they enjoy the smell of these things.
Conclusion: We May Never Know for Sure
In the end, we may never know why our dogs like to roll around in all the smelly things that we prefer to avoid. However, we don’t really need to know. In the end, it is far more important to understand this behavior, as it gives us one more way to understand our favorite pets.
Perhaps one day, someone will invent a device that enables us to read the thoughts of a dog. When that day comes, we will be able to finally settle the question of why dogs roll in poop and dead bodies. Until that day arrives, we can only take our best guess.
We hope that this article has been helpful and informative and that you are able to deal with this “crappy” problem in an efficient and effective manner.
"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two."
-- Phil Pastoret