Why Do Dogs Roll In Poop and Stinky Stuff?

dog rolling in poop on the grass

Picture this: it’s a beautiful spring day.

The flowers outside are vibrant and fragrant. The sun is shining overhead. Birds are chirping. The bees are buzzing. With such lovely conditions, you (naturally) decide to make the most of your day by taking your furry best friend on a walk.

dog rolling around on top of a dead animal

As you both happily trot along, you feel the leash tighten, your fur ball disappears behind you, and when you turn around you recoil in disgust at what you see: your dog is rolling around on a dead animal.

You try in vain to get them to forget the carcass, but it’s too late.

The damage is done.

Your “beautiful spring day” has suddenly turned sour, as you realize you’ll now have to spend much of your afternoon scrubbing that horrendous stench out from your dog’s fur.

As you look down at your dog (who’s happy as a clam with his accomplishment), you wonder “Why do you do this all the time?!”

Well, animal researchers have several theories that might answer your question.

Dogs May Roll in Smelly Stuff to Hide Their Own Scent

Here’s a fact that everyone can agree on: if you offer any dog a slice of meat, there’s a 0% chance that they’ll turn their nose up at it. This carnivorous preference is one of the many biological characteristics that dogs inherited from their evolutionary ancestors: wolves.

wolf looking at a dog Like wolves, all modern dogs are born with an innate urge to hunt prey. However, being a successful hunter is about more than just brute force and speed.  Successful hunters in the wild are able to stalk their prey before pouncing.

But, if prey were able to pick up a wolf’s scent, they would immediately run for safety.

However, if a deer that was being stalked only detected the scent of another deer’s droppings nearby, they would be less likely to bolt.

The theory follows that wolves began rolling around in odorous substances to hide their scent so they could hunt more effectively.

As a result, dog psychologists like Stanley Coren have argued that domestic dogs have simply retained this behavior via evolution. However, this theory has also raised considerable objections.

Dr. Patricia B. McConnell, a zoology professor at the University of Madison at Wisconsin, has stated: “If a [prey] animal’s sensory ability is good enough to use scent as a primary sense for predator detection, surely they could still smell the scent of [a predator] through the coating of yuck.”

In 1986, a group of Canadian scientists observed a collection of 15 wolves to study the behavior of scent-rolling.

What they found is surprising: the wolves did not rub themselves in the feces or carcasses of herbivores at all. Instead, they most preferred to get down and dirty with artificial substances like perfume and motor oil.

Their second most favorite smell?

wolves like to roll in mountain lion poop The droppings of other, often larger predators.

A similar study on scent rolling in grey foxes was conducted by ecologist Max Allen at the University of Madison at Wisconsin in 2016 and yielded similar results. The foxes were observed regularly visiting sites that male mountain lions had used for scent marking and rolled around in the strong-smelling urine.

Surely wolves (and, by extension, dogs) wouldn’t want to smell like an even more ferocious predator if they were trying to hunt better?

The findings of these research experiments lend credence to a reconfigured version of the Predatory Camouflage theory. This theory states that some smaller canids utilize the odorous scents of large predator animals to protect themselves from being hunted.

However, the iterations of the prey-predator theory are not the only ones being raised to answer the question of why dogs roll around in smelly stuff.

Dogs May Roll in Dead Animals to Communicate Information

Like wolves, dogs are pack animals. And, like wolves, dogs look for ways to help their pack and please the pack leader.

One easy way to do that? To make the pack privy to the location of food.

Wolves roll around on elk meat That’s the conclusion that Pat Goodmann, a senior animal curator at Wolf Park in Indiana  arrived at after conducting an experiment that aimed to understand scent-rolling in wolves. After presenting the wolves with a side of elk, Goodmann and her team watched as the wolves intermittently rolled around on the slab of meat and then ate it.

This led her team to believe that the wolves were trying to communicate to other members of the pack that “there were more leftovers to scavenge, for wolves that wanted to backtrack to the source of the odor.”

Building on this theory, researcher Simon Gadbois at Dalhousie University has posited that scent-rolling is also a social function of the pack, having observed that the pack leader typically is the first to roll in a strong scent before others followed. He believes that scent-rolling could be a form of establishing a sort of group odor.

“Well, that’s great…” you may be saying to yourself. “but how do I get my dog to stop rolling around in smelly stuff?”

We understand. Cute as our fur babies may be, they’re undeniably much less cute when they stink. Luckily, getting your dog to stop rolling around in stinky stuff isn’t terribly difficult.

How to Get Your Dog to Stop Rolling Around in Stinky Stuff

There’s no other way around it. You’re simply going to have to teach your dog to “Leave it!”

dog rolling on top of stinky stuff

Don’t worry.

This isn’t an insanely complicated process.

Quite the contrary.

First, take a dry treat and present it to your dog at nose level with a clenched fist. Your dog will try to nose and nibble at your fist to get you to release it, but don’t react to anything they do.

As soon as they begin to back away, say “Leave it!” and then reward your dog with a DIFFERENT treat (the one in your hand is the contraband, the thing you want them to NOT get, so never reward them with it). You’ll have to repeat this process dozens of times for them to really understand what it means, but once it’s clear that the dog has figured the phrase, you need to up the ante.

Move the treat from being in a clenched fist to being on the floor. Once they’ve successfully left it a few times, up the ante again. Move the process outside and take them on a “walk” in your backyard. Make sure to litter the yard in contraband treats that they’ll leave behind at your command.

Once they can successfully leave contraband on the ground and keep walking without much hesitation, you’ll be much more likely to have them leave smelly stuff behind.

However, you also have to learn how to recognize when they’ve honed in on something smelly. Thankfully, most dogs exhibit fairly obvious signs before rolling around in stinky stuff, such as stopping, staring, posing, etc. Once you notice them doing this, you have to command them to leave it ASAP.

What Do I Do if My Dog Has Rolled in Something Smelly?

Even some of the most well-trained dogs still have their slip-ups and find themselves covered in putrid smelling grime.

hemangiosarcoma in dogs If your dog has already rolled around in something stinky, the following steps should help get them back to smelling… well, not good, but like a normal dog.

Start with a thorough brushing tailored to your dog’s coat type.

Then, lather them in Banixx Medicated shampoo, and leave it in for up to 10 minutes.

As a further benefit you can add citrus peels to the bath water (it also breaks down the grease).

After the shampoo has been rubbed in and left on, rinse him down. Repeat this as many times as is needed. Banixx Medicated shampoo has zero soap to dry out your dog’s skin.  Instead, surfactants are in the shampoo formula that do a superior job of eliminating dirt, grim and grease.  Because it contains no soap to strip your dog’s hair of its natural oils, our shampoo can be used repeatedly with no downside. Moreover, it contains Marine Collagen that is an incredible moisturizer for your dog’s coat that will leave his hair shiny, soft and vibrant

Whatever the true reason that dogs have for rolling around in yucky stuff is, there’s only one explanation that appeals to common-sense and research alike: they seem to have a whole lot of fun doing it.