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Why Do Dogs Roll in Dead Animals? Exploring the Canine Fascination With Stink - PawSafe

Why Do Dogs Roll in Dead Animals? Exploring the Canine Fascination With Stink

Photo of Tamsin De La Harpe

Written by Tamsin De La Harpe

why do dogs roll in dead animals

One of the more… Let’s say… ‘interesting’ behaviors of our canine friends is their love for rolling in dead animals or other smelly stuff. As a canine behaviorist, I’ve seen and smelled it all! Living in a rural area and walking my dogs every day, I’ve become quite familiar with this behavior. So familiar, I have a whole system in place for when my dogs drench themselves in something gross.

But before we can get into what to do about why a dog rolls in a dead squirrel in the park or some other unfortunate creature, we need to understand why they do this.

Through my expertise and insights from Dr. Bonnie Beaver, a renowned expert in animal behavior, we’ll explore this fascinating yet somewhat gross behavior of dogs.

Now, let’s dive into some expert knowledge from Dr. Bonnie Beaver. According to her, a canine may roll around in things for a few reasons. Sometimes, it’s just a form of self-grooming, not really focused on picking up any particular scent. It’s like when they just rub against the ground without sniffing first.

Other times, if they’ve been exposed to a strong smell, like after a skunk encounter or a flea treatment, they roll to get rid of that overpowering scent. It’s their way of saying, “I need to get this off me!” This type of rolling often comes with sneezes and a quick dash here and there.

But the most intriguing is when they roll in strong odors, especially ones we find yucky, like animal waste or decomposing animals. Dr. Beaver suggests a few theories for this. One is that dogs might be trying to take on these odors as a kind of perfume – yep, what’s stinky to us might be a lovely scent to them! It could be a social thing for dogs, like showing off their new ‘cologne’ to their buddies.

Another theory is that they’re trying to cover up a strong smell with their entire body. It’s like they’re saying, “This smell is too much for just a little pee mark, let’s use the whole body!” The scent could also make them less sensitive to it over time or even encourage more social interactions with other dogs.

It’s important to note that not all dogs do this, and it may be more common in certain breeds or individual dogs. Additionally, rolling in dead animals can pose health risks, as the animal may be carrying bacteria or parasites that can be harmful to dogs. Also see our article on pups rolling in grass for more information.

What to do about our puppies rolling in decomposing animals

The best way to keep your dog from covering themselves in the stench of something dead, is to keep them on leash when out on a walk.

But for those of us who like to go for hikes and let our dogs run free, the next best thing is just keep your dog in your eye line and be quick to call them if you notice them stop and sniff. This is natural behavior, even if we don’t want it. So, to some degree I’ve learned to make peace with the fact that it may happen from time to time.

To prevent my dogs from turning into stink bombs, I’ve learned to be vigilant. I keep an eye on them, especially when they get overly interested in a particular spot. Quick recall training has become my best friend, but let’s face it, sometimes my dogs are quicker than my “No, don’t roll in that!” command.

When those mishaps occur, and they do, my trusty dog wash station in the yard comes to the rescue. It’s important to remember that rolling in unpleasant things is a natural behavior for dogs. It might seem bizarre to us, but to them, it’s just another day at the spa!

So let’s take a look at the different explanations for why dogs cover themselves in smells that make us gag.

The Instinctual Explanation

Dogs have a natural instinct to roll in strong scents, which includes the smell of dead creatures. This behavior is rooted in their ancestral history, where dogs would roll in the scent of prey to mask their own scent and avoid detection by potential predators.

Rolling in dead things can also serve as a way for dogs to communicate with other dogs. By rolling in the scent of decomposition, a dog can leave its own scent on the animal, which can then be detected by other dogs in the area.

Additionally, some experts believe that rolling in decomposing may provide a sensory experience for dogs. The strong scent of the animal may be stimulating to a dog’s sense of smell, providing a pleasurable experience for them.

Despite the potential benefits of rolling in dead creatures, it is important for pet owners to discourage this behavior. Doing this can expose dogs to harmful bacteria and parasites, which can lead to health issues. It is recommended that pet owners keep their dogs on a leash and supervise them when outside to prevent this behavior.

Scent Masking and Hunting Behavior

Dogs are known for their exceptional sense of smell, and they use it to their advantage when hunting for prey. One theory behind why canines roll in decomposing material is that it helps mask their scent while hunting. By rolling in the scent of a carcass, the dog can blend in with its surroundings and go undetected by its prey.

Another theory is that dogs and puppies roll in dead things to bring the scent back to their pack. This behavior may have evolved from their wild ancestors, who would bring back food to share with the pack. Rolling in a deceased creatures could be a way for a dog to bring back a valuable resource to its group.

It’s important to note that not all dogs exhibit this behavior, and some breeds are more prone to it than others. It may also be more common in dogs that have a strong hunting instinct or were bred for hunting purposes.

Social and Pack Behavior

Dogs are social animals and have a pack mentality much like a wolf does. They have a complex social structure that involves dominance, submission, communication, and bonding. These behaviors are often exhibited when pups roll in dead things.

Dominance and Submission

Some dog trainers believe that canines rolling in things that smell like death has something to do with pack hierarchy.  However, there is no reason to believe this is true.  I have never noticed more dominant dogs rolling in dead things than submissive dogs, or vice versa and there are no studies that support this idea.

Communication and Bonding

Rolling in a decomposing animals can also be a way for dogs to communicate with each other and bond. The scent of the carcass can carry important information about the animal that was killed, such as its age, sex, and health. By rolling in the carcass, dogs can share this information with other members of their pack and strengthen their social bonds.

In addition, it can also be a way for dogs to mask their own scent. This can be useful when hunting or tracking prey, as it can help them blend in with their surroundings and avoid being detected.

Overall, this behavior may seem like a strange and unpleasant behavior to humans, it is a natural and important part of a dog’s social and pack behavior.

Dogs eating carcasses vs. Rolling in them

In my practice,  I have noticed that when some dogs find something gross, like poop or a carcass, they prefer to eat it. While other dogs prefer to roll in it. I’m not sure which behavior is more gross. But I can tell you that when out hiking with my dogs and they find something that has been dead for a few days, I know exactly which dogs will try to eat it, and which ones will try to roll in it.

It seems to be entirely down to the individual dog whether they prefer to eat or roll in something gross. The only correlation I can see is that dogs that have a higher food drive seem to want to eat more often, while dogs that are more excitable, are prone to rolling. 

Health Implications

While rolling in carcasses may seem harmless, it can lead to several health implications for dogs. For instance, carcasses may carry bacteria, viruses, and parasites that can cause serious infections. Dogs can get infected with leptospirosis, salmonella, and other harmful pathogens.

Furthermore, rolling in decomposing matter can also attract fleas, ticks, and other parasites that can cause skin irritation, itching, and other health problems. These parasites can also transmit diseases to dogs, such as Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain spotted fever.

Is there a way to get rid of the smell after my dog rolls in a carcass?

Unfortunately, the smell of something dead can be quite potent and difficult to remove from your dog’s fur. However, there are a few things you can try to minimize the odor.

First, you can give your dog a bath using a pet-friendly shampoo. Be sure to thoroughly lather the shampoo into your dog’s fur and rinse it out completely. You may need to repeat this process several times to completely remove the smell.

Another option is to use a mixture of vinegar and water. Mix equal parts vinegar and water in a spray bottle and apply it to your dog’s fur. Let it sit for a few minutes before rinsing it off with water. This can help neutralize the odor.

You can also try using baking soda. Sprinkle baking soda onto your dog’s fur and let it sit for a few minutes before brushing it out. This can help absorb the odor.

It’s important to note that while these methods may help reduce the smell, they may not completely eliminate it. If the smell persists, it may be best to take your dog to a professional groomer for a more thorough cleaning.

How to Stop Your Dog From Rolling In Smelly Things

If your dog has a tendency to roll in dead things that they find, there are several things you can do to discourage this behavior. Here are some tips:

Training and Conditioning

Training and conditioning your dog can help reduce the likelihood of this behavior. Teach your dog the “leave it” or “drop it” command, and reward them when they listen to you. You can also try conditioning your dog to associate the smell of decomposing flesh with something unpleasant, such as a loud noise or a spray of water.

Keeping your dog on leash

Keeping your dog on a leash when you’re out for a walk can prevent them from rolling in dead animals. This also gives you more control over your dog’s behavior and allows you to redirect them if they show interest in a dead animal.

Provide Mental Stimulation

Providing your dog with mental stimulation can help reduce their desire to roll in dead animals. This can include playing with puzzle toys, going on different routes during walks, and providing plenty of opportunities for socialization and play.

Regular Check-Ups

Finally, make sure your dog is in good health by taking them for regular check-ups with your veterinarian. Dogs with skin or ear infections may be more likely to roll in dead animals, so it’s important to address any health issues as soon as possible.

By following these tips, you can help discourage your dog from rolling in dead animals and keep them happy and healthy.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

What motivates dogs to roll in dead animals?

There are a few theories as to why dogs cover themselves in the stench of a carcass, but the most widely accepted one is that it’s an instinctual behavior left over from their wild ancestors. Rolling in the scent of a dead animal could help mask their own scent, making them less detectable to prey or predators. Additionally, some dogs may simply enjoy the smell of dead animals.

How can I prevent my dog from rolling in dead animals?

Preventing your dog from rolling in dead animals can be difficult, but there are a few things you can try. Keeping your dog on a leash while outside can help you control their movements and prevent them from running off to roll in something. Additionally, teaching your dog a “leave it” command can help them avoid dead animals.

Do all dogs roll in dead animals or just certain breeds?

While not all dogs rub themselves in deceased animals, it is a behavior that is seen across many different breeds. However, some breeds, such as hounds and terriers, may be more likely to exhibit this behavior due to their hunting instincts.

What are the risks of letting my dog roll in dead animals?

Rolling in dead animals can expose your dog to a variety of bacteria and parasites, which can lead to health problems such as infections and parasites. Additionally, the smell of dead animals can be difficult to remove from your dog’s fur, which can make them less pleasant to be around.

Can rolling in dead animals be a sign of a health problem?

While rolling in dead animals is not necessarily a sign of a health problem, it can be a symptom of certain medical conditions such as allergies or skin irritations. If your dog is rolling in dead animals excessively or seems to be experiencing discomfort, it’s best to consult with your veterinarian.

Final Thoughts

In conclusion, while the exact reason why dogs roll in dead animals is not entirely clear, there are several theories that attempt to explain this behavior. Some experts believe that dog do this dead animals to mask their scent and avoid detection from predators, while others suggest that dogs may be trying to acquire the scent of the dead animal to communicate with other dogs.

Regardless of the reason, it is important for dog owners to be aware of this behavior and take steps to prevent it if possible. This may include keeping dogs on a leash during walks, providing plenty of mental and physical stimulation, and training them to respond to commands such as “leave it” or “drop it” if they start to show interest in a dead animal.

Meet Your Experts

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Tamsin De La Harpe

Author

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.

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.