Dogs seem to have a strange fascination with all things weird, smelly or downright distrusting. Not only do they love to sniff them or even eat them, but they sometimes do something even worse: They roll around in them.
As a pet parent, this weird habit of your dog’s might be awful, especially if you’re then subjected to a car ride home with it afterward and have to endure the potentially messy task of giving your pup a bath. If your dog partakes in this activity a lot, you may be wondering, “Why do dogs do this?” and even more so, “Is there a way to make it stop?”
As it turns out, this behavior is completely natural for dogs, and it is very common.
Why the smelly things?
Experts aren’t 100 percent sure of why dogs love to seek out the smelliest substances possible and roll around in them, but they have some suspicions.
First, it’s important to remember that many scents that are unpleasant to humans (like animal carcasses and poop) are thought to be delicious to dogs. These scents also tell dogs a lot about their surroundings, which is why they spend so much time sniffing them with their intense sense of smell.
As far as rolling around in them, some experts believe this behavior is instinctual and is linked back to dogs’ days in the wild. When dogs needed to sneak up on their prey, they would mask their scent by rolling in other, stronger scents to remain undetected during the hunt and make the attack that much easier. While this is not really important for today’s domesticated dogs, it used to be an important aspect of pack life.
Another theory is that, since dogs have such a powerful sense of smell, dogs use rolling in smells to communicate to other dogs about where they have been. Today’s dogs don’t roam in packs, but they could still exhibit this behavior to share information to other dogs they pass by or ones at home.
Dogs may also have begun rolling in particular scents as a group to create a certain type of “pack smell.” Again, this behavior doesn’t really apply to domestic dogs in the modern age, but it’s likely a habit they haven’t let go of.
There are other, more outlandish theories, but these have less scientific backing. It is possible, though, that given a dog’s strong sense of smell and its preference for odorous things, they just do this for fun.
Is it possible to stop it?
Although this behavior is natural, it’s reasonable for you to want to stop it as often as possible to cut down on the number of baths you have to give your dog (or the number of times you have to ask yourself, “What is that smell?”). In general, stopping this behavior entirely is unlikely, but there are ways to prevent it in some circumstances.
- Be mindful of the surroundings: Dogs are usually able to sniff things out before we can see them, but try your best to watch the surroundings in your backyard, on a walk or at a park. Look out for poop, dead animals or other smelly substances that your dog might try to have a roll in. Then, avoid them as much as possible by distracting your dog with a game or taking an alternate route. Make sure to pick up your dog’s poop quickly if your dog likes to roll in its own feces, as well.
- Short leash: Keeping your dog on a shorter leash while on walks or in unfamiliar areas can also be useful in preventing it from getting too far away and coming across a stinky object.
- Divert your dog’s attention: Distract your dog or do something your dog finds annoying, like making a loud noise, when it starts rolling. This can help your dog learn to associate rolling in scents with bad experiences, potentially limiting its rolling behavior.
- Create a strong recall: Train your dog to respond to “come,” no matter what distraction is nearby. A good recall can be difficult to develop, but having your dog be skilled at returning to you on command is extremely useful in many situations, including this one. As soon as your dog starts to roll in the smelly thing of its choosing, you can get it to return to a “come” and be gifted with a treat, all while protecting your nose.
Remember, this behavior is normal, so you should never punish your pup for it. You dog is just doing what is natural to it and likely won’t understand why it is being punished if you scold it. Simply remove your dog from the situation and find the nearest bathtub or hose to get the stench off.