Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Why Do Dogs Roll in Disgusting Things?

By Ruthie Bently

I've lived with American Staffordshire Terriers since 1981 and have been lucky enough to own four of them. While they were all basically the same because they were AmStaffs, they were all different in their personal habits. AmStaffs are a wonderful breed and my first dog Nimber was a great dog that literally cleaved to my left hip, but for all his nice traits (and he had many) he had one habit that I was never able to break. He liked to roll in nasty things.

Before I had put up fencing for a dog yard where Nimber could exercise safely, there was one weekend that the person supervising his recreation period wasn’t leashing him for his walks. As a result he got loose and went wandering on his own. Nimber ended up getting three baths in a day and a half because he kept rolling in green deer poop. I am totally convinced that he went back to the same spot after each bath just to get smelly again. After I put up the dog run fencing, he was confined safely; but every time he got loose he found the smelliest pile of stuff to roll in.

There are many schools of thought as to why our dogs roll in things we think are nasty. Whether it is a pile of fresh cow or horse manure in a pasture, a pile of deer poop in the woods or maybe a dead animal carcass that they run across on a daily walk, some dogs will roll in it. I have happy news, though – not all dogs roll in smelly stuff.

Some people believe that our dogs roll in nasty things to cover a rival dog’s scent, which seems foolish to me. I have owned enough dogs, both male and female, that will mark a spot with either feces or urine after another dog has left a deposit of their own, but they never rolled in it. If anything they got perturbed by the miscreant marking territory that they felt was theirs.

I read something else that I tend to agree with after living with my own dogs, which suggested that the behavior goes back to that original pack. A dog finding something to roll in was doing it to take a message back to the pack. Bees go back to a hive and do a dance, ants lay a pheromone trail back to their nest for other ants to follow back to the food source they have found. What better way for a dog to take a message back, than to roll in the filthy mess? Their whole body is covered in a new smell!

Dogs are very scent oriented in nature; they always smell each other when they meet (if their owners allow them). If a wolf were to roll in fresh deer poop, they could lead the pack back to the area, and the pack could track the deer, which in turn could lead to a new source of food.

Yet another theory that goes back to the original pack, mentions that our dogs may be trying to camouflage their own scent from others. Think about it – they roll in very smelly stuff and come home not smelling like our dog any more. What better way to protect themselves from anything that may want to harm them, or prey they may not want to smell their scent and become spooked?

The last theory is that our dogs get turned on by many odors. Maybe they just like to smell different than they already smell. We humans use perfume, and according to the findings of one laboratory experiment performed, the dogs tested rolled in a large scope of things, including rotting garbage, dung, tobacco, lemon rind and perfume. This would seem to shoot down either the theory about covering the scent of a rival or camouflaging their own scent from another animal.

So the next time your beloved dog rolls in something disgusting, try not to get angry. And if it makes you feel better, think of it as aromatherapy for your dog.

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently


  1. I have a German Shorthair and she rolls in/on good smelling things such as freshly washed hair, fresh cut grass, dryer sheets, perfume, etc. She is the first dog I have ever had that has NEVER rolled in anything gross such as poop, dead animals, etc. Is this normal since most dogs roll in the stinky stuff because I found it totally odd.

  2. Dear Kerri,

    As I mentioned in the last part of the article, what your dog is doing is natural. She likes to smell good, and is finding her own perfume. Think of it as her way to find her own aromatherapy. If she likes things that smell nice, you might consider checking out your local pet store for a cologne for dogs. Don't use your own, as it would be too strong for her; but if she likes to smell good, there is no reason that she shouldn't if you will allow her.

  3. My cousin mentioned the perfume thing, as well, but I see no reason rolling why good and bad smelling stuff couldn't serve the same purpose in camoflaging. Would prey be scared off by lemon rind, for example?

  4. My dog rarely rolls around in anything but I was surprised to notice that she loves to roll all over discarded cigar butts! I live near a park and 3 different times she was in ecstasy rolling all over something. Sure enough, when I looked underneath her, I saw it was a cigar butt. Must love the smell. Go figure.

  5. My daughter's 4 month old Boston Terrier loves peeing on his blanket and then rolling all over it. He goes through a lot of blankets this way. It's also a nuisance, since it then requires her to bath the pup. Worse, it's been an distraction with housebreaking him. He prefers his blanket to his Wee Pad. Any suggestions as to how she can discourage this behavior? Thank you.

  6. Hi Anonymous,

    It could be he's confused and thinks his blanket is like the housebreaking pads. I would take away his blanket until after he's been housebroken and leave just the wee wee pads. Otherwise, he may grow up thinking when he needs to go, that's what all blankets are for.

    If you don't want to take his blanket away completely, only give it to him after he's gone outside or used his wee wee pad and make sure you're getting him outside at least 5 or 6 times a day to do his business. I would pick the blanket up as soon as he wakes up in the morning and from a nap and watch him really carefully right after he's eaten or after he's been playing in the house. But then, those are all times when you should be taking him outside for a potty break. You want him to learn the blanket is for sleeping with. Don't let him play with it or leave it down so he has access to it all the time. Teach him to play with toys instead of his blanket.

    Encourage him to use his wee pads and make sure to give him lots of praise and treats when he goes on the pad or outside. You'll better off by not letting him have his blanket if he keeps peeing on it. That's how they learn bad behavior. He figures it must be alright since you keep giving him a blanket. Work on his housebreaking and after he understands where he's suppose to go and is a little more mature and can control his bladder better, then you can try him with his blankets. At 4 months old, you should be able to get him housebroken in two to three weeks, but he still could have accidents until he's a little older. Once he's housebroken and as he gets older, he won't need to go outside for potty breaks as often.

    It's possible he doesn't like the smell of the clean blanket and pees on it and then rolls around on the blanket to spread it around. He may not like your detergent or fabric softener, if you use both on his blanket or he still smells pee even after it's been washed. Dogs have an amazing ability to smell and if he even detects a trace of pee, it could be making him think that's why you give him the blanket. I suppose it's possible if he likes getting baths, he's learned when he rolls in pee on his blanket, he gets your attention. If it seems like he really enjoys a bath, don't give him one right away. Wait about 15 minutes so he's not associating rolling in pee with getting a bath.

    Try adding some apple cider vinegar to your water when you wash his blankets. Vinegar is a great deodorizer. You can also mix up half and half water and vinegar in a spray bottle and lightly spray his blankets to keep them freshened up. You might want to try another laundry soap or one that doesn't have a smell. Same thing with the fabric softener.



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