Bugs? Check. Worms? Check. The questionable remains of something deceased? Check. Check. It never fails. Even if I’ve killed a bug on the floor and cleaned it up, my dog still runs over to the spot rolling and rubbing himself all over the area where something has just died.
If you can relate, it likely means your dog leans down on a walk, gets a good whiff of something you probably don’t see, and proceeds to start rolling around and writhing on the ground. Even if the spot is clear now, you can only imagine what was once there.
If you have a dog that loves to roll around where something has died, be it bug, bird, mouse, or fill in the unknown carrion, you know that when left to their own, dogs enjoy this death-linger, rubbing themselves in the dead carcass, goo, guts, remnants or simply just the spot where something dead once laid.
But just where does sweet Sadie get the hankering for this foul behavior?
“Numerous dog behaviorists believe the actual reason for such rolling is that dogs try to deposit their natural scent on the dead stuff: Scent-marking their prey, dogs’ ancestors publicly claimed it and kept other scavengers away,” says Claudine Sievert, DVM, a Kansas-based veterinarian and veterinary consultant at CatPet.club.
But Sievert says it doesn’t make much sense to her because dogs aren’t rubbing their neck and lips to leave saliva, they rub and roll around on their backs, which looks like they’re trying to absorb or “wear” the scent.
Most animal experts think the behavior is a likely a holdover to dog’s ancient ancestors, the wolves, known to roll around in smelly stuff and dead things to mask their odor on a hunt. “Wolves camouflage their natural odor this way to “hide” from prey and hunt more successfully,” says Sievert.
Researchers have studied scent rolling behavior among wolves, foxes, and coyotes and continue to debate the actual reasons this leftover behavior remains among our domesticated dogs, in the same way dogs scratch and circle on their bed—or yours—when settling down—because their wild ancestors patted down tall brush to bed themselves at night.
“Look what I found”
Yet another theory is that your dog is actually bragging to other canines that he’s found something good by rolling in the foul odor and carrying the smell on him where other dogs can smell it, too. “Look what I found,” the scent may say.
“As you know, dogs sniff each other not only to say hello but to gain information about each other,” says Sievert. Thus, your dog is kind of saying, “Great news! There’s something deliciously dead nearby.”
Still another theory posits that your dog is claiming the kill as his own by “wearing” the scent, but in this one, signaling other dogs to stay away from his prize or respect him for the kill or the find. “Rolling around in smelly things helps weaker animals keep out of other, stronger predators’ sight,” Sievert says.
So your dog may think he needs this putrid perfume to puff up his reputation around the neighborhood and impress bigger, stronger specimens he may run into.
“This smells great!”
And finally, rolling in dead carcass smell could say, “Look at me, don’t I smell terrific? And don’t you like me better now with this smell on me?” This signals that dogs may be just more attractive to all the other dogs with a funky foul odor on them, rather than the smell-good bath products you would rather they reek of.
In fact, Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic vet in Texas and consultant for doglab.com says, “dogs are gross and love to play in anything that smells horrible. My own dog loves to roll in the dead things that my cat drags up to the house.”
No matter which theory you care to buy into, keeping your dog from the behavior may be tricky. A good recall and desirable treats when out and about is the best way to stop your dog from rolling around in guts and goo, as well as scouting for dead fish or sea birds on the beach or other dead critters on the trail or walk ahead to intercept the behavior.
And of course, if it’s really bad, the inevitable bath comes into play the minute you get home. Don’t be surprised though when your pup looks at you ungratefully, like “why are you washing this great smell off me?”
Remember that even with the juiciest of gourmet treats as a bribe, some dogs, for whatever reason, are hard pressed to pass up the opportunity to writhe around in something foul that he finds irresistible.