You might already know that dogs not only have amazing senses of smell but that they also simply love smelling stuff. From garbage, trees and fire hydrants that have been peed on by other animals to the actual source of some of these smells - other dogs’ butts. It is no secret that our canine companions have different preferences than we do when it comes to smells, and unlike us, they enjoy smelling stinky stuff. Some so much so, that just smelling something funky is sometimes not enough. Lots of dogs love rolling around in stinky stuff and even seem euphoric while doing it - but where does this need come from?
The Root of the Behavior
Unlike humans who depend on their sight to see their world, dogs’ primarily use their sense of smell to interpret the world around them. Their sense of smell is much greater than ours for several reasons. Firstly, dogs have two air passages and use their noses for smelling and their mouths for breathing. This enables them to pick up a greater range of different odors than humans, who primarily breathe through their noses. Dogs’ noses, which are nearly always wet, can capture scent particles which helps them smell better as well. Each nostril can be used independently to identify a particular smell and the direction it is coming from. All of these make dogs’ not only great hunters and amazing rescue dogs but also the perfect animal to train to detect drugs to become drug sniffer dogs.
So how come dogs choose to use their state of the art nose and smelling abilities on things that smell so disgusting to us and what’s more, to roll in it? While there does not seem to be any concrete science behind the cause of the somewhat gross behavior, there are a few theories. Some believe that dogs try to override the smell of whatever they are rolling in to leave a mark of their own, in a way they are marking their territory. While others believe that they instinctively coat themselves with foul-smelling odors to mask their own smell, like wolves do, to better disguise themselves from the potential prey they might be hunting. By covering their own odor they have an increased chance of successfully stalking and sneaking up on prey without alerting them with their scent. Lastly, since dogs have different scent preferences and love smells that humans find disgusting, rolling around in foul-smelling organic manner might just be very enjoyable for them to do. It can also potentially make them smell more attractive to other dogs, who also enjoy those detestable smells and consider them “dog perfume”.
Encouraging the Behavior
As offensive as it is to your nose, you should not scold your dog for rolling around in a dirty patch of grass or even feces. As this is a natural and normal instinctive behavior doing so could confuse your dog and weaken the bond between you. Instead, try to spot and avoid garbage piles or another animals’ feces and head a different route. The best way to prevent your dog from rolling in smelly stuff is to avoid it. Keep your dog on a short leash if you see a potential stinky-rolling danger. Rolling around in foul-smelling organic matter will most likely not hurt your dog. However, it is important to make sure that your dog isn’t rolling in something that could be dangerous for him, such as a broken bottle in the grass or grass fertilizers that could actually hurt him. Either way, as gross as it, is it’s best to always thoroughly inspect whatever your dog was rolling in, in case of irritation or strange behavior. And if the smell is really foul, feel free to give your dog a proper wash to get rid of it by using an odor-neutralizing shampoo. Even if it means your dog will go and roll in something foul the next day to rid himself of the “clean” shampoo smell.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Whether it is just preference or an instinctual urge that has evolved over decades of hunting and scavenging, there is no denying that most dogs will occasionally enjoy doing a barrel roll through a stinky patch of grass. And despite the fact that manure, garbage and a decaying carcass smell awfully unpleasant to us - they are the type of smells that dogs find delightful and are attracted to. Rolling around in them might not only be very satisfying to dogs, it also enables them to enjoy the smell for a longer period of time. Coating themselves with these sort of stenches allows them to show them off to other dogs they encounter on the way home for a bath.