Bugs? Check. Worms? Check. The dubious vestiges of something defunct? Check. Check. It is always successful. Even if I’ve killed and cleaned up a bug on the floor, my dog will still run up to the location, rolling and rubbing himself all over the area where something has just died.
What’s going on?
If you can relate, it’s most likely because your dog leans down on a walk, gets a scent of something you don’t see, and then begins rolling about and writhing on the ground. Even if the area is now clear, one can only picture what was once there.
If you have a dog who enjoys rubbing himself in the dead carcass, goo, guts, remnants, or simply the spot where something dead once lay, you know that when left to their own devices, dogs enjoy this death-linger, rubbing themselves in the dead carcass, goo, guts, remnants, or simply the spot where something dead once laid.
But whence does beautiful Sadie acquire the desire for such heinous behavior?
“Numerous dog behaviorists believe the real 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,” explains Claudine Sievert, DVM, a Kansas-based veterinarian and veterinary consultant at CatPet.club.
But Sievert says it doesn’t make sense because dogs don’t massage their necks and lips to leave saliva; instead, they rub and roll around on their backs, which appears to be an attempt to absorb or “wear” the scent.
Most animal specialists believe the activity is a relic from the dog’s ancient predecessors, the wolves, who were known to roll around in smelly and dead items to hide their odor while hunting. “Wolves use their natural stench to “hide” from prey and hunt more successfully,” Sievert explains.
Researchers have studied scent rolling behavior in wolves, foxes, and coyotes and continue to debate why this leftover behavior persists in our domesticated dogs. Just as 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”
Another argument is that by rolling in the nasty stench and taking it with him, your dog is actually bragging to other canines that he’s discovered something nice. “Look what I discovered,” the smell would say.
“As you know, dogs smell each other not simply to say hello, but also to learn about one other,” Sievert explains. As a result, your dog is responding, “Great news! Something wonderfully dead is nearby.”
Another belief holds that by “wearing” the scent, your dog is claiming the kill as his own, alerting other dogs to stay away from his prize or honor him for the kill or find. “Rolling around in smelly substances helps lesser animals stay out of sight of other, bigger predators,” Sievert explains.
So your dog may believe he requires this vile aroma to boost his image in the area and impress larger, tougher specimens he may encounter.
“This smells great!”
Finally, rolling in dead corpse odor could exclaim, “Look at me, don’t I smell fantastic?” And don’t you like me more now that I have this smell on me?” This indicates that dogs may be more appealing to other dogs with a funky rotten odor on them than the smell-good bath products you would want they reek of.
“Dogs are nasty and love to play in anything that smells bad,” says Sara Ochoa, DVM, a small animal and exotic doctor in Texas and consultant for doglab.com. My dog enjoys rolling in the dead things that my cat brings up to the house.”
Regardless of whatever hypothesis you believe, preventing your dog from engaging in the behavior can be difficult. When out and about, a good recall and appealing treats are the greatest ways to keep your dog from rolling around in guts and muck, as well as searching for dead fish or sea birds on the beach or other dead wildlife on the trail or move ahead to intercept the activity.
And, of course, if it’s really terrible, the inevitable bath awaits you when you get home. Don’t be surprised if your dog looks at you ungratefully, as if to say, “Why are you washing this lovely smell off of me?”
Remember that even with the most delectable gourmet goodies as a bribe, certain dogs, for whatever reason, will find it difficult to resist the opportunity to writhe around in something nasty that he finds enticing.