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There is nothing quite like the experience of letting your dog outside to potty at midnight only to discover as they walk in the door they folded themselves into a pile of deer poop (of course I am not talking about my own dog ... wink, wink). Live with a vivacious dog and you learn rather quickly that deer droppings are not the worst thing your dog has decided to use as fur gel (goose poop anyone?!).
So what is up with this often odor-ific behavior? Researchers, dog trainers, behaviorists, and dog owners are still baffled as to why dogs will find themselves rolling around in something smelly, slimy, or seemingly random but this behavior is most likely deeply coded in their canine DNA.
3 Reasons Why Dogs Roll in Smelly Things
The smell of freshly mowed grass or dead chipmunk is part of their glow up.
1. It's Mentally Stimulating
Dogs see the world by way of their nose and new scents are incredibly enticing and enriching to them. In fact, sniffing and smelling is by far their most treasured form of enrichment. One way for them to really smell something deeply is to roll all over it, carrying the scent in the fur for a long time, inhaling at their leisure or until Mom or Dad gives them a bath.
2. It's Instinct
One of the most popular theories about this behavior is that dogs roll in novel smells to disguise their own scent from would-be competitors and also potential prey. That way, when distant canine relatives went on a hunt their prey would not recognize them as the enemy (like a form of camouflage), making ancient dog all the stealthier.
3. It's a Way to Share Information
Smell all about it! There are dead worms in the neighbor's yard! Many dog behavior experts believe that rolling in odoriferous substances is to communicate to other dogs, near and far, that they have discovered something amazing. A sort of dog social media if you will. This could also make them the most popular doggie in the neighborhood that day, a bit like a kid at school wearing a pair of the trendiest, new kicks (do people still call sneakers kicks? lol).
Common Things Dogs Like To Roll In
Luckily, not everything your dog takes a twirl in is super smelly. But most of it is.
Freshly mowed grass might be a dog's favorite type of green, but it appears any kind of grass that is full of smells will do. Lawns are chock full of interesting fragrances to your pup because they are so heavily traversed by the family, neighbor kids, local critters, and other dogs.
Yep, maybe the worst thing your dog can cover themselves in is anything that is dead and decaying. Naturally, and probably not surprisingly, things that have "gone to the other side" are heavily fragrant, especially as they become one with the Earth or have been baking in the sun for awhile (yuck). So it's no surprise that your odor connoisseur would love to cover themselves in something this excitingly fragrant.
Ah yes, feces. It's often slimy, squishy, and smells worse than your kitchen trash can. Why not dive right in, dogs? What we find disgusting is rarely, if ever, gross to our dogs and poop is no exception. Since it comes straight from the body of another living creature it is uniquely scented, and readily available, making it often a first choice for our canines. A perfect way to understand another creature from the inside out (yep, I went there).
Another delicatessen that can be found literally everywhere is dirt and mud. Soil contains all sorts of remnant materials from decayed animals to dead leaves to tiny microbial organisms and left over picnics. Delicious!
You might find that your dog will chew on a toy and then immediately roll themselves over it, creating a squeaker cacophony. Their toys might smell familiar, especially if it is an old favorite that has not been destroyed yet, making it comforting. Or, it might be a new toy you just bought them for their birthday. Either way, they want to make sure it smells just like them in case someone (like the other dog in the house) were to come along and want to borrow it.
The majority of the time your dog finds themselves rolled up in something funky it is no cause for concern, though he may need a bath afterwards. However, if your pooch appears to be obsessively rolling or seems to constantly carry around an odor, it is time to make an appointment with your trusted veterinarian to rule out any health concerns.