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Why Do Dogs Roll In Smelly Things?

white and brown dog sitting on the couch

As you’ve undoubtedly noticed, you and your dog have very different notions of what smells nice. To your dog, something could smell quite wonderful. But to you, in a word, it’s yucky. And vice versa.

A few theories

Here’s a perfect example of something that smells nice to you but not to your dog: the perfumes used in dog shampoo. You may find them pleasant, but many dogs dislike their odor. As a result, as soon as your just-bathed dog gets the chance, he finds something that smells more acceptable to him—garbage, dog feces, animal carcasses—and starts rolling around in it.

Have you ever caught your dog rolling around in poop? Believe it or not, this behavior is quite common—and very natural. Many believe it's instinctual behavior, harkening back to the days when your dog’s wild ancestors would mask their scent to help them sneak up on their prey. Wolves, for example, have been observed rolling in animal carcasses or the droppings of plant-eating animals, to cover up their own smell during the hunt.

Here’s a related theory that also conjures up the pre-domesticated past of canines: wild dogs may have rolled around in smelly things to “tell” their pack mates where they’ve been and what they’ve encountered in their adventures. It’s his way of saying, “Hey, smell where I’ve been!”

What should you do about this behavior?

The important thing to remember is that rolling around in smelly things is a natural and normal behavior for dogs—no matter how the results may strike you (or your nose). Of course, that doesn’t mean that you have to live with a smelly dog. Though you shouldn’t punish this behavior, there are steps you can take to discourage it.

If your dog rolls around in his own feces, immediately clean up after him in the yard. When you’re out walking your dog, keep him on a short leash to prevent him from rolling around in another dog's poop or other smelly things you both might encounter. To discourage and ultimately stop him from rolling around in offensively odorous things, you could try to pair an unpleasant experience with his action. This can take the form of squirting him with a water bottle or using a citronella spray collar that can be operated via remote control (dogs absolutely hate the smell of citronella). If you use this method, make sure you squirt him as soon as he starts rolling.

You can also try anything your dog finds annoying, like making a loud and sudden noise. The key here is to be consistent and to start the “annoyance” as soon as he starts to roll around in something smelly. Once he starts to associate rolling around in smelly things with the unpleasant experience, chances are this behavior will quickly stop. And you can breathe easier.

  • The Serious Benefits of Play

    dog carrying a frisbee in its mouth

    Playing and having fun helps to eliminate stress from your life—and the same holds true for your dog. In fact, incorporating various forms of play into your dog's daily routine is vital to helping him develop a healthy, loving personality.

    The benefits of play

    Here are some of the ways that playing and having fun is important:

    • Physical health. Active play helps keep your dog's heart healthy, keeps the joints lubricated, and improves his overall balance and coordination.
    • Mental health. Games with rules force your dog to use his brain, not just his body. This can help keep his mind sharp and focused.
    • Social skills. When your dog plays with other dogs and other people, it helps improve his overall social skills. He learns basic rules and how to play by them.
    • Bonding. Even if it's only for a few minutes a day, playing with your dog helps strengthen the bond between you.
    • Your health. What better way to alleviate the stress of a busy workday and get a bit of exercise than to come home and play with your dog? It's a win-win for both of you.

    How to play with your dog

    There are right ways—and wrong ways—to play. The most important thing to remember is that you're the boss. You decide what games should be played and you set the rules. This helps establish your credibility as the pack leader. It also helps keep your dog from getting overly excited and out of control while you play. If your dog does become difficult to manage, simply put a stop to the game until he calms down again.

    When you're teaching your dog a new game, reward him when he does well. Remember, rewards don't have to be just treats. You can also reward him with his favorite toys or lots of hugs and praise.

    When you start out teaching your dog a new game, keep it simple and go through the game slowly, until your dog fully grasps the rules. Also, wait until he fully understands one game before you teach him a new one, otherwise it will end up confusing him.

    Playtime tips

    • Avoid games like keep away, wrestling, or tug-of-war. Those games encourage biting or dominant, aggressive behavior.
    • Stay in control of the game at all times. Show your dog that you're the pack leader, not just another member of the pack. Retrieval games are good at teaching control.
    • Don't include your body or clothing as part of any game.
    • Incorporate the SIT or DOWN and STAY commands in every game.
    • You decide when it's time to end the game, not your dog. The best time to stop the game is when your dog is still eager to play.
    • If, for some reason, your dog doesn't seem to understand the game at some point, go back to the beginning, or simply leave it and try again a few days later. Don't get angry if you're dog isn't "getting it" right away. Remember it's supposed to be a fun experience for both of you!

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