The Root of the Behavior
Rolling in pungent smells is a common dog behavior that traces its roots to when dogs lived primarily in the wild. Wild dogs needed to find prey as a food source for them and their young. Yet at the same time, they needed to keep from becoming prey for other predators. Rolling in dead animal carcasses or feces served a purpose for these dogs. Since animals possess powerful scent capabilities and also give off their own unique scent, disguising the smell that identifies them was important. Rolling in feces or other 'fragrances' served as a form of camouflage to throw predators off the dog's trail. This would play an important role in the dog's ability to hunt and to keep from being hunted. Dr. Stanley Coren says of this seemingly strange canine phenomenon, “My theory is that dogs roll in stinky stuff for the same reason humans wear loud Hawaiian shirts. It’s a matter of their dominant sense of smell, whereas for humans, the dominant sense is vision.” With that said, is there a specific purpose for sniffing poop?
Encouraging the Behavior
Dogs convey messages to other dogs through their urine and feces. Many refer to this as 'pee-mail.' Urine marking communicates to other dogs where your dog has been. It is quite common for dogs to repeatedly urinate in the same location on a walk to reinforce the scent. You may also notice that Fido will go and check those spots to see if any 'mail' has been left for him and to refresh fragrances that he might not have visited in a while. While poop sniffing is a normal canine behavior, it is not something that we should allow our dogs to do on a regular basis. Because not all dogs have access to regular de-worming and vaccinations, a disease can easily be spread via feces. Dog feces is the perfect vehicle for many types of worms including hookworm, tapeworm, and ringworm. Whether your dog is on a proper preventative to control the spread of disease or not, they can be affected. But dog feces is not limited to containing just worms. It also has the potential to transmit salmonella, E. coli, giardia, parvovirus, and roundworms. These diseases are not only harmful, and potentially fatal, for dogs and they can infect human beings as well. Studies report that a sample of canine feces can house up to 23 million E coli particles per gram. That is a powerhouse punch of bacteria!
Other Solutions and Considerations
After dog walks, make certain to always wash your hands thoroughly to ensure the removal of any bacteria particles remaining on your hands. Take care to inspect Fido's feet as well in case he has stepped in any feces. Dogs contain sensitive glands in their feet through which bacteria could be absorbed into your dog's system. While it is not necessary for your dog to wear boots for his walks, keeping a soft towel and a bucket of warm, soapy water handy for a quick wipedown is always a wise idea.