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Why Do Dogs Roll in Things? A Pooch's Point of View

Muddy puddles, fox poo, manure, garbage, wet grass – what’s not to love?

I really don’t understand why my human gets (very!) upset when I roll around in smelly things because it makes me feel great! It’s like scratching that itch that’s difficult to reach – bliss!

I’m not sure which I prefer most, though – a muddy puddle or fox poo. Mmmm…?

Chocolate lab laying on back rolling around in grassBut why? I hear you ask

It’s in the genes! And quite natural for canines to roll around in smelly things – it’s what our ancestors used to do to mask their smell when hunting for prey, or to disguise their smell from predators. It’s amazing to think that my great-great-great doggie grandad used to do just the same thing.

A clever researcher at Wolf Park in Indiana – Pat Goodman – has studied scent rolling in wolves and she thinks it’s a way of bringing information back to the pack about their environment, particularly if the wolves have been rolling in a decaying carcass. This could make it easier for other wolves in the pack to track down the ‘kill’ for their next meal.

Rolling in something smelly could also mean that predators were put off the natural scent of the wolves and couldn’t smell where they were hiding.

But for domesticated pooches, like me, it could be that it’s just good fun. There may have been an evolutionary reason for it, and although we now may not do it for the same reason, it still feels good! My favourite is a muddy puddle, especially if it’s a warm day or I’ve been chasing around the field – it helps me cool down.

Retriever dog laying on back in leaves holding a leaf in its mouth A dog’s sense of smell

Did you know that my sense of smell is 20 times more powerful than my human’s? But my doggie friend Hamish, the bloodhound that I met in the park, has an amazing sense of smell – he has 300 million scent receptors in his nose, so can sniff out anything. I bet he finds some very interesting things to roll in!

Don’t forget that what smells nice to humans, doesn’t always smell nice to us. OK, maybe that roast chicken will smell yummy to us all when it is cooking, but that doggie shampoo that my human insists on washing me with smells far too strong for me. That’s why after I have a bath I go and roll in the grass outside – if my human doesn’t stop me, that is. Grass smells much nicer.

Golden retriever puppy laying on back in grassHow humans can spoil our fun

If you really don’t like us rolling in things, I suppose you could try the following:

  • Consider walking us on a lead, so that you can stop us if we look interested in rolling around.
  • Have a strong recall. I am always keen to go back to my human as I know I will get a reward for doing what I’m asked to do, but not all dogs are the same. Make sure you prioritize recall training from an early age.
  • Keep an eye on our body language. If you see your pooch sniffing around or maybe pawing an area, use that recall or distract them with something they like doing, like playing ball or frisbee.
  • If you know your pooch has a particularly favourite thing to roll in, try to avoid it. For example, don’t go into a field where cows have been if you know your dog loves to roll in cow pats! And, if it’s been raining, stay away from places that are likely to have a lot of puddles.
  • Always carry poop bags with you if your dog likes to roll in their own feces and clear them up immediately.
  • A waterproof coat will help to stop anything we roll in getting into our fur, and it is probably easier to wash a coat than a dog when you get home.

If you are too late to spoil our fun, and you’ve travelled by car to your walking spot, it’s worth having something to clean your dog up with before they get back into the vehicle. It’s also wise to have a secure place to put your dog when you get home, so they can’t run around the house making everything else smelly!

However, do remember that rolling in things is a natural behaviour for dogs! So although I do appreciate it might not be so pleasant for humans, you should never scold your dog for doing it.  After all, we’re just doing what comes naturally!

Group of 4 kids running in park with a golden retriever dog

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