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Why Do Dogs Roll In The Dirt? 8 Reasons It’s So Hard To Keep Our Dogs Clean

why do dogs roll in the dirt

Few things can get on your nerves quite like your dog rolling in the dirt right after giving them a nice bath.  Of course, this muddy state of affairs drives any dog owner who prefers a clean house and dog, nuts. 

A quality dog wash will fix your messy situation, at least for the moment, until they do it again. So why on earth would your dog want to roll in dirt and any other vile material they come across?

Why Do Dogs Roll In The Dirt?

Dogs roll in the dirt because it’s the epitome of canine fun, and to wrap themselves in the odor, scratch an itchy back, and cool down. You can almost always expect dogs to roll in something the moment you let them off the leash. 

Since there’s no one-size-fits-all answer to this, we will look at  nine reasons why your pup is rolling on dirt.

1. To Communicate

Our pups have apocrine glands that secrete pheromones to help them identify and communicate with each other. They will express fear or danger, their reproducing availability, and their dominance over the other canines in the hood.

When dogs roll in the dirt, they leave their scent which other dogs sniff and understand the message left. After females urinate, it’s not unusual to see your male dog rolling in the wet dirt to take in all those  pheromones.

2. To Have Fun

Dogs love having fun, and admit it, what’s better than watching a dog with zoomies? During walks, dogs will jump around, collect sticks, and roll in the dirt to really take in their newfound freedom. Rolling in the dirt is often a way that relaxed dogs show they are happy and enjoying themselves. This much like a child playing in a sand pit.

Just see this dog rolling on their back from pure joy:

3. To Scratch An Itchy Part

There are some areas your dogs can’t reach when they feel the urge to scratch. This calls for an immediate roll in the dirt, especially when the itchiness is on their back. Rolling in mud is also a way for dogs to relieve a nagging skin condition. So, it’s best to watch out for signs like flaking, redness, and swelling.

Dogs with pain or itching in on their faces may also rub their faces against the carpet.

4. To Pick Up Scents

When dogs encounter an exciting odor, they react immediately by rolling in it for investigation later. Dogs roll in stinky stuff because, for canines, it seems like the more rancid and gross, the better.

Rolling in odors in the surroundings is an evolutionary phenomenon observed in wild dogs. When ancient dogs explored and found a dead animal, they’d roll in to show the rest of the pack later. Your dog maintains this ancient scent-picking practice and probably can’t wait to go brag to their friends about what they found.

5. To Remove a Scent From Their Skin

Dogs are not into good-smelling stuff on their skin; that oatmeal shampoo you love so much included. All they want as soon as they’ve sniffed that clean dog scent on them is to get that skunky poop smell on them once more.

6. To Cool Down

Dogs do not sweat through their skin like humans. They have unique ways to cool themselves, like panting and rolling in the dirt. Dogs are intelligent enough to know that rolling in mud reduces body temperature, especially when it’s hot. 

Lying in the dirt, especially in the shade, was to get rid of excess heat. Their body heat transfers to the cool earth and helps them cool down.

7. To Mimic a Behavior (Social Scent Rolling)

Dogs are naturally curious and fancy experiencing what their canine friends are doing. When they observe another dog rolling in the dirt, chances are high that they will jump on the opportunity as soon as it presents itself.

This behavior is common in wild dogs and wolves who bond as a pack by rolling in mud. Dogs of the same household can also engage in this activity as a bonding session, just like their ancestors did. 

Pet siblings are frenemies. So don’t be shocked if you see them playfully bonding in the dirt one time and selfishly covering and hiding their food the next.

8. Instinctual Practice To Novel (unfamiliar) odors

Dogs are intelligent creatures and have always been way before we domesticated them. Rolling in unfamiliar scents if behavior common in wolves. Scent rubbing, or when a wolf or dogs lowers their shoulders and rubs their neck and back in a substance do not only do this with carcasses or feces. They do this with a variety of unfamiliar scents, including perfumes or motor oil.

We don’t know why they do this, but it may be to remember and become familiar with knew scents in their environment. 

Removing evidence of their presence is not against prey only, but predators too when we see dogs eating their vomit to conceal weakness.

Why Do Dogs Roll in the Dirt After a Bath?

Dogs hate baths and are glad when you are done with this intolerable activity.  They are likely to get zoomies because they are more than relieved the process is over. Dogs will shake and roll in the after bath to dry themselves and eliminate the new scent on their skin. In fact, one reason to roll in the dirt after a dog gets wet is that it’s their version of drying themselves off with a towel.

As much as dog owners love it when our pups smell good, it is not always the case on their side. If it were up to them, they’d ditch the fresh smell for a strong stench of rot any day. Think of dirt as your pooch’s favorite doggy cologne; they absolutely love it.

When Is Rolling On The Dirt A Problem?

When Is Rolling On The Dirt A Problem?

Dog rolling on dirt is a normal behavior to them, but it can be annoying to dog parents. It becomes a problem when dogs do it so much that they matt their hair, and are perpetually dirty.  They may also gather a pungent aroma and track dirt into the house.  A dog that rolls in dirt too much may also need more baths, and too many baths is not good for a dog.

These excessive baths to get the dirt off can strip your dog’s coat of its natural oils, causing dryness and flaking. Dirt also contains chemicals like arsenic (AS) caused by pesticide use and can cause skin infections in your pup.

Your pup may also contract a parasitic infestation from constantly rolling in the grass. These include fleas, ticks, and ear mites from the dirt. These are not only uncomfortable but also capable of causing more severe illnesses like Lyme disease.

Dogs are also susceptible to a fatal condition known as Blastomycosis or Blasto  that is found in soil. 

It is caused by fungus and can affect the whole body. The fungus is found in the dirt near water, leaves, feces, and other organic material. Treating this costs an arm and a leg. To avoid this, keep your pup away from the place where decomposition is taking place.  

Take them to a vet ASAP if your dog has been rolling in decomposed places and have these signs:

  • Fever
  • Loss of appetite
  • Weight loss
  • Depression

These are clinical signs your dog might be suffering from blasto.

How To Stop My Dog From Rolling In The Dirt

Rolling in the dirt is natural dog behavior and sometimes we just need to allow our dogs to be dogs. However, you may want to cut the dirt rolling short due to the awful smell, skin infections, parasites, and health conditions. 

Here we go through how to stop them from rolling in the dirt.

1. Positive Reinforcement.

Redirect them to something else whenever they give you a sign to roll. Use the “no” or “come” command when rolling in the dirt for them to know it’s not allowed. Reward them by offering a treat, praise, or petting after they obey.

2. Keep Them Busy.

Busy pups are tired pups and will certainly not go about rolling in the dirt when they feel like it. Involve them in long walks or playtime and offer them chew toys to keep them engaged.

3. Keep Them On A Leash

Leashing your dog during walks keeps you in control. This way, you’d prevent them from parasites, and they’ll not go rolling in stinky stuff and then come home smiling.

4. Make Sure They Are Pest Free

Fleas, ticks, and mites can make dogs feel itchy, causing your pup to roll in the dirt to scratch the itchiness off.

Bathe your dog with warm water and gentle soap after a long day of dirtying themselves with stinky stuff. This will remove any parasites gathered from the park and playtime.

Frequently Asked Questions (Faqs)

Why Do Dogs Roll On Smelly Things?

An unpleasant smell to us is likely pleasant to your dog. Dogs roll in stinky stuff to mask their own scent and this is generally seen as a relic from their past as wolves.  You can read more in our article on why dogs roll in stinky stuff.

Why Do Dogs Roll On Grass?

Dogs roll in the grass to have fun, scratch an itchy spot, cover their scent, pick up a scent, cool down, and mimic a behavior they saw. It’s typical for your pup to roll in the grass and should only be stopped when it gets excessive.

Why Do Dogs Roll In The Mud?

The main reason why dogs roll in the mud is to cool themselves. Unlike hoomans, pups sweat through their paws. When the temperatures are extreme, they may find other alternativ-e-archives in the mud and would love every minute of it.

You can see our article on cleaning mud off dog paws for help on this matter.

Final Thoughts

Dogs rolling in the dirt is normal behavior, and they fancy doing it. They do it to have fun, cool down, pick a scent, remove a scent, scratch an itchy part, and communicate with other dogs. Leash your dog when going for walks and parks. Doing this will prevent rolling in the dirt and picking up unpleasant smells.


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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