We’ve all been there. You’re taking your dog for a walk, enjoying the great outdoors, perhaps breathing in the fresh air. In that moment of distraction, it happens. Your dog has found something truly repulsive and is rolling around on top of it, paws in the air, thoroughly coating himself in whatever foul substance he’s unearthed.
Whether it is something dead, poop, or just one of those unknown, smelly things dogs find, you’ve probably asked yourself–and your dog–why on earth dogs do this. After all, dogs’ noses are incredibly powerful. Shouldn’t strong odors be overwhelming? Does he really think of it as doggy cologne? Where did this behavior come from?
Veterinarians and behaviorists are not entirely sure why dogs roll in smelly things, but they do have a few ideas. One of the most widely known theories is that dogs do this to cover their own scent, hiding from prey or other predators.
While this sounds logical, Pat Goodmann, a researcher at Wolf Park in Indiana, has studied scent rolling in wolves and has another explanation.
Her research suggests that wolves roll in scents they find particularly interesting, not to disguise themselves, but to bring that information back to the pack. Rolling in a decaying carcass, or even fresher meat, could be a way for wolves to tell members of the pack, “look what I found.” This behavior could make it easier for wolves to track down an abandoned kill, or just to trade information about their environment.
There could also be a social aspect of scent rolling. A pack of wolves may all roll in the same scent, according to canid behavior expert Simon Gadbois, perhaps to create a sense of togetherness or group smell.
Whatever the reason, one thing is certain: the last thing we want is to share the joy of our dog’s disgusting discoveries.
Behaviorist Sophia Yin has a few suggestions about how to prevent your dog from rolling. According to Yin, your best chance of stopping your dog from coming back from the beach smelling like dead fish is to have a good recall. Irresistibly stinky scents are challenging to overcome, but carrying treats or a desirable toy, and working on the recall command regularly can improve your odds of escaping an odorous situation. You can also scan ahead for potentially smelly objects, like poop, and distract your dog from them with a fun game or reward.
If all else fails, keep your dog on a leash in areas with known stinky treasures.