Dog owners are often unpleasantly surprised when their canine companion returns from a romp covered with unpleasant smells and questionable muck. Why do dogs roll around in smelly stuff, and how can you curb that noxious behavior?
What Dogs Might Roll In
Dogs are attracted to strong potent odors that have many more layers of interest and aromatic subtleties than humans can detect. Their sensitive noses can hone in on a wide range of smells, and dogs may roll in a wide variety of odiferous substances, including…
l Feces and manure, either dried or fresh
l Carrion, roadkill, and carcasses, including dead fish
l Garbage and compost
l Mud and mudpuddles, particularly with strong smells
While many of these smelly piles may repel humans, dogs are attracted to them and will roll with joyous abandon, spreading the odor all over their fur and skin.
Why Dogs Roll in Smelly Stuff
The exact reasons why dogs roll in rotting or smelly stuff is not entirely clear, but this is a natural, instinctive behavior and there are several reasons why this type of rolling appeals to dogs.
Hunting Instinct – Covering their own natural odors with other potent smells can be part of canines’ latent hunting instinct, to conceal themselves from their prey. Wolves, coyotes, foxes, hyenas, and other wild canines exhibit this behavior.
Removing Artificial Smells – The scents and perfumes of upholstery, bedding, pet shampoos, and other products may smell good to humans, but they may be offensive to dogs’ sensitive noses. Rolling in smelly stuff may cover those unwanted odors.
Communication – Rolling in different smells can help dogs collect an olfactory record of where they have been and what interesting things they have encountered. This can then be communicated to their pack when they return home.
Catching Attention – Strong, interesting odors can catch the attention of a potential mate or give a dog a way to stand out from lesser members of its pack. This can impact the dog’s position in the pack hierarchy and affect its social standing.
Identification – When one dog rolls in something noxious, other dogs in its pack may roll in the same material. This can create a pack identity and contribute to a shared experience, which is part of the animals’ communal behavior.
Enjoyment – There’s no denying the fun and joy dogs experience while they’re rolling in smelly stuff, twisting and turning to spread material all over. It’s likely that some of their rolling behavior is pure enjoyment of the experience.
Stopping Smelly Rolls
Regardless of why a dog may roll in smelly stuff, the result is the same – a dirty, smelly dog. Those odors can then be transferred to other surfaces the dog encounters, including its bedding, rugs, furniture, and more, and the smells can be tough to eliminate. Many dog owners prefer to stop their pet from rolling in smelly stuff altogether.
First, remove material that may attract your dog and incite rolling behavior. This means cleaning up manure and avoiding the use of manure or compost in the garden or landscape. Another option is to prevent your pet from finding smelly places to roll by using sturdy fences and other obstacles to ensure that your dog cannot reach the smelly things. When going for a walk, keep your dog firmly on a leash, and be alert to possible debris such as corpses or garbage that may cause your dog to roll over.
Simple training techniques can also prevent your dog from rolling around in smelly things. Use a spray gun to stop your dog from tumbling unnecessarily, or use delicious snacks or other rewards to reinforce the "stop" or "to me" command to stop your dog from tumbling. This training needs to be continuously strengthened to ensure that your dog knows what behavior is acceptable.
Finally, minimizing artificial odors and perfumes on dogs can help suppress any rolling behavior. Use odorless detergents and shampoos for your pets, and avoid placing potpourri, incense, or other scented products near your dog's bed and toys.
Even with the best training, all dogs may one day encounter things that their owners find unpleasant. When this happens, it is important not to punish the dog, because the animal will not understand how inappropriate its instinctive behavior is. Instead, just try to clean the dog as soon as possible, removing as much harmful substances, dirt and debris as possible. The mixture of hydrogen peroxide and baking soda, mixed into a paste, and then mixed with a small amount of degreasing soap, can effectively deodorize and clean the dog's stinky fur. Commercial deodorant shampoos and pet-friendly deodorant sprays are also options for removing odors and making your dog smell sweet, no matter what they might find.