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Why Do Dogs Roll in Stinky Stuff?

Why Do Dogs Roll In Stinky Stuff

Most pet parents are left frustrated and wondering, “why do dogs roll in stinky stuff?”. The behavior is not fully understood, but here are 5 possible reasons.

Dogs portray a couple of odd and unwanted behaviors such as happily rolling in stinky stuff. As pet parents, we all know that a simple walk or play session outside can quickly turn into a smelly situation when your pup delights in a rancid pile of playthings. 

No matter how much fun your canine friend may have while rolling in the rot, it’s repulsive to see and smell. Additionally, playing with decayed carcasses can be dangerous to your pooch and yourself because of exposure to bacteria and disease. Understanding why your dogs roll in stinky stuff allows you to find solutions before the next doggy bath.

5 Reasons Why Dogs Roll in Stinky Stuff

One popular theory behind dogs rolling in stinky stuff is that the behavior is instinctual. Covering up in odiferous substances was a way for dog ancestors to camouflage their scent from prey or other predators. The smelly disguise made these ancient canines stealthier and more likely to catch prey during hunts.

Dogs explore the world around them largely through their noses. So, you’d think dogs would be absolutely grossed out by smelling horrid stenches owing to their sharp sense of smell that exceeds ours. Instead, some putrid smells seem to fascinate our canine companions, so much so that they roll in them. So let’s take a closer look at why our dogs love getting covered in bad smells.

 Here are 5 reasons that explain dogs’ awkward fascination with smelly materials. We have also included a few tips to prevent the behavior so that your dogs stay somewhat odor-free in between baths. 

It’s an instinctual action that serves as a disguise

Animal behaviorists and experts can’t entirely explain the phenomenon of dogs rolling in poop or dead carcasses. However, many believe that rolling in smelly things is an evolutionary occurrence in dogs. Canids (wolves, jackals, foxes, dogs, etc.) likely cover up in distasteful odors as a hunting tactic to make themselves stealthier. 

Smaller canids may have also rolled in wastes and rotting carcasses to keep them safe from bigger predators. Your dog may wake up to a bowl of food every day, but their predatory instincts remain intact. Even if the best they can hunt for is their favorite toy, the prey drive is still strong in many if not most breeds. 

But this could explain why some breeds are particularly notorious for rolling in stinky stuff. Hunting dogs like retrievers and spaniels may be slightly more prone to rolling in a stench than some other breeds. Of course, other breeds may choose to eat the undesirable item instead, which is not necessarily a better outcome.  Eating stinky material likely has something to do with a dog’s scavenger tendencies, and a natural urge to clean up.

Instinct or not, some dogs roll in revolting stuff at the most inopportune times, like before grooming or vet checkups. If this is your dog, you can hose them down and top up with the PawSafe® Dog Deodorizing Spray. This salon-quality product softens your dog’s fur and leaves it with a long-lasting fragrance. 

A way to share information with other dogs

Your dog can roll in nasty materials because they can’t wait to tell other dogs what they found. Dogs view the world through their nose, which is why their greetings notoriously involve sniffing each other’s butts, a place where anal glands can relate a lot of information.  This can include health status, what they ate,  gender and other vital information.

Dog ancestors lived in packs that had well-developed modes of communication meant for covering long distances, hunting, and scavenging. It’s a little-known fact that even wolves display a reasonable amount of scavenger behavior compared to cats, especially when food is scarce. 

In fact, it is probably because wolves scavenged that they took to following human camps and eventually became domesticated. In addition to olfactory camouflage for stealth during hunting, ancient dogs covered themselves in stench to relay information.

In the past, canines likely explored on their own and made exciting discoveries such as food. They rolled in what they had found to let the rest of the pack know what was out there once they got back. Canids are both hunters and scavengers, and most of the smelly carcasses they rolled in were still good to eat. 

This communicating purpose of smells that repulse us is probably one reason why your dog goes crazy after baths. You just undid their hard work of gathering novel smells before your dog got the chance to show off! Bummer. 

It’s fun for them to do

Believe it or not, some smells that are gross to us may be fascinating to our dogs. “What better way to savor all those smells than to roll and line your coat with them?” says your pup. Rolling in carcasses seems to give your dog the epitome of all dog colognes, though your nose may not agree.

You may not want to share in your dog’s smelly treasures, but their fellow dogs would be thrilled. Dogs find new and exciting ways to keep themselves entertained outdoors; stinky odors are just a bonus. Canines also love rolling on the ground just for the joy of it, weird smells excluded. 

Dogs can compartmentalize smells from one concocted source and focus on the good in the bad. This means they can find fun sniffing and even eating the vilest of materials like poop. Eating poop, or coprophagia, is an entirely different issue though. 

Engaging in social scent rolling

Multiple dogs in the same household can opt to roll in carcasses as a bonding session. Wild dogs and wolves, dog ancestors, engaged in social scent rolling to strengthen bonds and to mark themselves out as a pack. Dogs are social animals that enjoy each other’s company and that of their humans. 

Dogs also roll in their surroundings to mark their territory for the next dog to know they were there. If your dog rolls in dead squirrel or fish, it may just be their way of saying, “this is mine”, especially for households with many pets. 

Mentally stimulating 

Few things are more stimulating for your dog than a good roll in the dirt. Your dog may have been bored the whole day, causing them to go temporarily crazy as soon as you let them out. Rolling in stinky stuff stimulates their olfactory senses and their affinity for strong smells. A bored dog that is allowed to run off leash in park often takes to zooming madly around, stopping only to thrash around in the first stinky thing they find. It is partly a way to explore their surroundings, take in the smells, and expend some excess energy.

If your dog spends the whole day lounging in the house, they’re probably mentally and physically understimulated. Dogs are intelligent creatures, so their minds need mental workouts every once in a while, along with walks and other physical exercises. 

Rolling in unpleasant substances isn’t the only aftermath of under-stimulation in dogs. Destructive behaviors like excessive chewing on household items and too much vocalization are all signs of a bored pooch. Rolling around increases dopamine levels in your dogs, making it a fun activity for when they’ve been mentally and physically unoccupied. 

What You Can Do to Prevent Your Dog from Rolling in Stinky Stuff?

Just because rolling in the worst smelling stuff is quite normal for dogs doesn’t make it any less annoying. Sometimes your dog has a knack for choosing the worst times to get messy, such as right after a bath. These few tricks can help minimize the behavior, making outdoor trips a little less messy. 

Have a good recall

Well-trained dogs are more likely to stop rolling where they shouldn’t be once you call them back. A strong recall causes your dog to halt in their tracks when you notice them heading straight for carcasses and other smelly discoveries. 

Learn scan for potential odor culprits

If you live in the countryside or in a forested area, you’ll probably come across lots of animal bodies and dung. Before allowing your dog to roam free, quickly scan for any odor threat. If you notice one, change the play time location to a cleaner area. Look for clear grassy area before you let your dog off leash, and don’t let them run free in areas with bushes or trees where you may not be able to see a source of stink.


If you can’t keep your dog away from the stinky stuff, you may have to keep them leashed. Dogs roaming free can find ideal places to roll, not to mention some people have a deep phobia of dogs. Using a leash during walks helps your dog to resist the urge to dive into mud or whatever other place. 

Mental and physical stimulation

Having some playtime with your dogs keeps their minds and bodies occupied. Take a few minutes daily for a brisk run with your dog or a few dog mind puzzles. Physical and mental activation tires out your dog, so they probably won’t roll around as much. 


Dogs can be nothing short of messy, even gross, sometimes. Typical unwanted but natural behavior in dogs includes rolling in the dirt, mud, carcasses, and other stinky stuff. 

Rolling and covering up in horrid odors is also fun and mentally stimulating for your dog. If the smell from rolling gets too much to bear, consider taking your dog out on a leash and scanning the area first. You can’t completely keep your dogs from rolling in stinky stuff; it’s, in many ways, part of owning a canine.


Tamsin De La Harpe


Tamsin de la Harpe has nearly two decades of experience with dogs in rescue, training, and behavior modification with fearful and aggressive dogs. She has worked closely with veterinarians and various kennels, building up extensive medical knowledge and an understanding of canine health and physiology. She also spent two years in the animal sciences as a canine nutrition researcher, focusing on longevity and holistic healthcare for our four-legged companions.

Tamsin currently keeps a busy homestead with an assortment of rescue dogs and three Bullmastiffs.

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