We love our dogs. We share our homes, furniture, sometimes even our beds with them. And while we love all the wild and wonderful things about our fur babies, I’ll admit that when my dog takes a dive into a fresh pile of ivory bird poo (his favorite) I am disgusted and think, “why are you like this?”
With so much research available on dog behavior helping us to understand their wacky and unpredictable antics, the jury is still out on exactly why dogs seem to enjoy rolling around in poop and other nasty revolting stuff like trash, rotten food, and even dead animal remains. Here are some theories to better help you understand this phenomenon.
Whatever the reason, it is a deeply ingrained evolutionary instinct that dates back to well before dogs were domesticated animals. Even wolves, coyotes, and foxes roll in feces and dead animal remains. It is largely believed that they are either seeking to leave their scent behind as a form of marking, or they are trying to mask their own scent as a hunting technique.
They are Leaving Their Scent Behind
This is in line with another well-known dog behavior — marking. Dogs mark with urine to establish their territory and communicate with other animals, especially right after another dog has done so. It can be viewed as a simple doggy communication system in which your dog wants his neighboring animals to know that he’s been there and investigated the smelly odor too.
This is especially interesting when comparing it to the behavior of wolves. Researchers at the Wolf Park facility in Indiana noted that wolves will roll in something smelly, like the remains of their prey, and other pack-mates will sniff the wolf and then follow that scent back to its origin. This is a valuable hunting instinct. It communicates where prey was found and allows them to track future food sources.
They are Hiding Their Own Smell
It’s hard to look at the sweet teddy bear face of my pup and remember that his predecessors had to hunt to survive. He has never had to hunt farther than the kitchen to get a meal. But when I play with him, I see his primal instincts come alive. He will drop his prey (ok, it’s a plush toy shaped like a taco, but go with me on this one) and encircle it. His eyes fixed intently on me, especially my hands. As I inch them closer, he drops down and grumbles out a menacing growl. He is such a wolf in that little 8 lb. body!
By rolling in their prey’s smell, be it remains or poop, a dog can hide their own scent and mask it with a non-threatening odor that allows them to sneak up on unsuspecting game. The desire to hunt and engage in primitive instinctual behaviors of their wild ancestors is still highly active and makes your dog feel like he is doing what he was born to do.
How Do I Stop My Dog from Rolling in Poop?
Perhaps understanding why they do it is not as important to you as inhibiting it from happening in the first place. It is much easier to correct this behavior if your dog is on a leash when they are most prone to drop it low and wriggle in something revolting.
Watch for Cues They’re About to Drop it Down Low
Often your dog will have a particular posture or sequence of behavior that will alert you to their intent to roll before they even hit the ground. For example, sniffing intensely at a particular area. He may begin shaking his head or twisting to one side, alerting you that he is preparing to barrel into a vile mess. That is when you give the leash a tug and use your correction of choice, “no” or “leave it” works.
If there is a particular area that your dog tends find his favorite nasty stuff to roll in, like around a pond with ducks or geese, then make sure to walk them on a leash in those areas.
It is harder to correct this behavior off leash. Establishing a solid training foundation with your dog is imperative. Using the command “no” or “leave it” will let her know it is unacceptable behavior. If it happens in your yard, keep an eye out for dead animals and clean up your dogs’ poop regularly to limit access to yucky stuff.
If you’re away from your home, or with particularly driven dogs, a distraction method may be effective. Offering small treats to distract her from the undesired behavior can help. A travel sized squeeze bottle (the ones for shampoo or lotion) filled with peanut butter supplies endless diversion from the temptation for really determined doggies that like to get dirty.
How to Wash Out the Smell When Your Dog Rolls in Poop and Gross Stuff
There are a myriad of odor-neutralizing shampoos on the market. I use one that includes orange oil, recognized as a safe deodorizer and degreaser. Look for one formulated for your dogs’ particular skin and coat type.
While you may never fully prevent your dog from rolling in poop and other nasty stuff, you can do your best to mitigate the behavior and redirect it. Play with your pup in a way that allows his natural hunting instincts to come alive without engaging in rolling in messy stuff. Correct the behavior before it happens when you sense a roll coming on. And be prepared with a good odor-neutralizing shampoo for when it occurs.