Why does my dog roll in disgusting things?

Scientists estimate that a dog’s sense of smell is between 10,000 and 100,000 times more powerful than a human’s, yet they often seek out the smelliest, foulest things to roll around in. The smells of fox poo, dead fish and rotting carcasses are bad enough to make our own eyes water, so what’s the appeal for a dog?

There is no definitive explanation as to why dogs like to roll in smelly substances but canine behaviourists speculate that is it most likely an inherent instinct that has endured from pre-domestication.

What smells nice?

To us, our dogs probably smell at their sweetest after a bath. Dog shampoos contain ingredients such as lavender, chamomile, aloe vera, and fruit essences that leave a pet with pleasant scent that masks the natural ‘doggie’ odour.

However, when choosing a scent, your dog is likely to have very different tastes. This is why, quite often, a freshly bathed or groomed dog will try to dirty themselves up as soon as possible by rolling around on mud or grass if nothing smellier is available.

Survival instinct

The pet dog’s wild ancestors had to hunt to survive and the act of covering themselves in smelly stuff from their surroundings could have been a way of camouflaging their natural scent. This could enable them to stealthily sneak up on prey as well as protecting themselves from any lurking predators.

Communication by smell

A dog can tell others where they have been and what they have discovered with a scent message left on their coat. It could also be a way of bragging about an impressive find when a dog returns to their pack. Dogs could also use their altered scent to advertise their ability to find food and resources, which is a highly-prized quality within the pack.

Wolf studies have shown that after sniffing a pack member that had rolled in something smelly, other wolves were observed following the scent back to its source.

Social scents

Some canine behaviourists believe there is a social aspect to rolling in disgusting things. In a pack of wild dogs or wolves, rolling in the same things would result in a unified group smell and a sense of belonging – almost like a signature scent for the pack.

Let the good times roll

It could be that dogs just enjoy rolling in things – as simple as that! Some scientists believe that the action of rolling around on the back triggers a rush of dopamine, which is the neurotransmitter involved in reward and pleasure.

Whatever the reason, it is generally accepted that rolling in yucky stuff is a natural impulse that is so ingrained in a dog’s psyche that it’s impossible to stop. There are steps you can take to reduce the opportunities your dog has for rolling in foul things but it is important that, if they do, you never punish them for engaging in a normal canine behaviour.

Top tips

  • If you have a persistent offender, keep them on a lead in areas where they are likely to encounter disgusting things.
  • Take some wipes out with you on walks or keep a pack in the car so that you can quickly clean up any whiffy patches on your pet’s coat.
  • Anticipate when your dog might roll and interrupt their train of thought with a distraction, such as asking for a sit in exchange for a treat or producing their favourite toy.
  • Teach your dog the ‘leave’ command. Take some especially tasty treats when out on a walk and offer them in exchange for ignoring something they would otherwise choose to roll in.
  • A good recall is essential to be able to control your dog when off lead. Be vigilant for things your dog might want to roll in and call them back before they have the chance to roll. This is also a useful way to deal with dogs that might eat disgusting things when out and about.
  • Fox poo is particularly pungent and very difficult to get rid of. Even if you think you’ve got it all out of your dog’s coat, you’ll find that the odour lingers. There are pet shampoos and cleaners available that are specifically marketed for fox poo incidents but many owners report successes when using baby oil, baking soda or tomato ketchup on the coat.


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