Why do dogs roll in disgusting stuff? Ah, but of course, it’s not disgusting to them, right? But oh, the things with which dogs anoint themselves are usually awful to us humans, even with our lousy sense of smell. Here’s what I wrote about it in The Other End of the Leash:
“If you haven’t smelled a dog who’s rolled in fox feces, then your life is slightly better than mine, because it’s a horrible smell, skunky and repulsive, and it clings to dog fur like a burr.”
But why DO dogs roll in strong smelling scents? And why choose the scents that they do? Why not roll in mint or lavender or, for that matter, old food cartons left on the sidewalk? First, let’s look together at the guesses about why dogs roll in the first place.
One suggestion is that they aren’t trying to get the scent on themselves, they are trying to get their scent onto the smelly stuff on the ground. This idea makes little sense to me, since dogs use urine and feces to scent mark just about everything and anything. Why bother with the milder scent of a shoulder or the ruff around one’s neck when you’ve got urine to use? (Tulip, the sheep guarding Great Pyrenees, used to urinate AS she was eating her dinner, most likely because the sheep tried to eat her food.)
Another hypothesis is that that dogs roll to camouflage their own scent, all the better to sneak up to prey. Stanley Coren, author of many books on dog behavior, suggested that this idea has merit, in that it would be adaptive if canids could fool their prey by pretending to smell like them. I’m skeptical here too. First off, most prey animals are highly visual, and use sight and sound to be on the alert for predators. It’s not that they can’t use their noses, but their noses are dependent on wind direction and so sight and sound are often more important. (That’s why hoofed animals have eyes on the side of their head, the better to see you with Mr. Wolf, if you are sneaking up from behind. It’s also why deer and other prey animals have huge ears that swivel around like mobile satellite dishes.) In addition, if a prey animal’s sensory ability is good enough to use scent as a primary sense for predator detection, surely they could still smell the scent of dog through the coating of yuck. Neither does this explain the intense desire of dogs to roll in fox poop.
It has also been suggested that, like bees bringing back information about food sources to the hive, canids covered in stinky stuff are informing their pack members of something important, or at least interesting. Pat Goodman of Wolf Park once experimented by placing different scents in the wolf enclosure, and found that the wolves rolled in the usual stinky poopy stuff, as well as perfume, a fish sandwich with tartar sauce, and the dog repellent Halt!. Pat noted that several times other wolves followed the scent back to its origin, after smelling it on the fur of the roller himself. Given the highly social nature of wolves, the idea that scent rolling might be a way of returning information to the pack has merit. As I mentioned earlier, even bees learn about food sources by smelling it on the bodies of their sisters, so it seems reasonable that this could be a way of conveying interesting information in a mammalian species.
Another theory, as I describe in the chapter “Planet Smell” in The Other End of the Leash, is the “guy-with-a-gold-chain” hypothesis. Perhaps dogs roll in stinky stuff because it makes them more attractive to other dogs. “Look at me! I have dead fish in my territory! Am I not cool?!” Behavioral ecology reminds us that much of animal behavior is related to coping with limited resources–from food to mates to good nesting sites. If a dog can advertise to other dogs that they live in an area with lots of dead things, then to a dog, what could be better?
But maybe dogs are like us, and use strong smells for two reasons, the same way in which we use perfume. Perfume or aftershave is used not just to make us more attractive to others, but also because we like the smell too. It seems to make us feel good. Perhaps dogs are using strong smells both to attract others and to self-perfume themselves. It’s not like they can go to the counter at the department store, or order on line after all. Stanley Coren likes this idea too, and penned my favorite line of all time about the issue in Psychology Today: “Therefore, I believe that the real reason that canines roll in obnoxious smelling organic manner is simply an expression of the same misbegotten sense of aesthetics that causes human beings to wear overly loud and colorful Hawaiian shirts.” Ta Da Boom.
But another related question: Why roll in what they roll in? What’s the attraction? The range of items seems to be large (I’d love to hear your examples), but the underlying theme seems to be things that have very strong smells. Dead fish. Fox poop. Lots of animals do what is called self-annointing, like this hedgehog, often involves feces and urine. Some animals seem use the scent as a repellent, others use it as an attraction, or even a pheromone to change the behavior of others. Male goats urinate on their own chins during mating season; an advertisement that even we humans can’t miss if we are within half a mile. But in all cases, the scent is strong, strong, strong. “The better to make you notice me, my dear.”
Here’s what we do know: Dogs are programmed to roll in the strongest smelling stuff right before you have company. Or have to leave right away, and are all dressed up. Guaranteed. I have had dogs roll right before twenty-some people were coming for a $1,000 a couple fund raiser that Jim and I put on for Wisconsin Public Radio for years. Jim and I spent weeks preparing–we donated everything: tables outside with white table cloths, flowers, lamb BBQ and food I’d cooked for days on end–all to help raise money for public radio. We took the dogs outside for one last pee before the guests arrived, and you guessed it, within seconds, Border Collie Pip threw herself onto the grass in a microsecond and ground fox poop into her shoulder.
I expect many of you out there have your own story about the “worst possible time” for a dog to roll in something disgusting. Send them in. Best one wins a prize!
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Speaking of parties, we had a lovely party this weekend to celebrate my retirement from teaching “The Biology and Philosophy of Human-Animal Relationships” at UW-Madison. I’ve taught the class for twenty-five years, and although it I’ll miss the students and delving into the complicated and often contradictory aspects of the HA relationship, it felt like it was time. I have a lot of wonderful memories of teaching the class, and still hear from students who are scattered across the globe doing wonderful things. (Write in and say hi if you are one of them, no matter what you are doing right now!)
Here’s one of my favorite photographs from the party, of me and my major professor and now dear friend, Jeff Baylis, who is the one who first got me interested in sheep dogs to begin with. Needless to say, I owe him a lot, and loved being able to talk about the “early years” together. Thanks to Robert Streiffer (philosopher and photographer extraordinaire) who took the photo.
Also wonderful was having three remarkable young women who acted as Teaching Assistants for the course over the years: Vera Pfeiffer, Meghan Fitzgerald and Peggy Boone. They made the course extra special and it was wonderful to see three “generations” of biologists all together.
I did a lot of cooking for the party–here’s a photo of my favorite appetizer. They are ridiculously easy to make (just google Apple Roses), although I varied the recipe and used herbed goat cheese to make them savory. While I was passing those around, Jim grilled the lamb burgers; Yum Yum to the chef.
Thanks to everyone who came, and made it a very special day.
Not long after we adopted Ranger my eight year old son and I were walking him along a local urban trail. As we passed from rock beach to earth path a brightly colored stone caught my son’s attention. He examined it from several angles, picked it up, examined it more and then put it in his pocket. Maybe 100 yards further on something caught Ranger’s nose. He examined it from several angles, put his nose down and inhaled it deeply, then dropped and rolled vigorously. The impulse between boy and dog looked exactly the same, “this looks/smells interesting, yes I like it, I will take it with me.” Fortunately, whatever it was Ranger found that time did not have a strong odor.
Over the last eight years (today is Ranger’s ninth birthday) since he came to live with us Ranger has rolled in fresh cut grass (I agree with him it smells lovely), fresh hay (I agree there too), cedar chips (oh, yes, I love that one), dryer sheet (which had blown out of someone’s trash), a lady’s pants (that might have smelled like the same dryer sheet), a woman’s woodsy perfume (slightly embarrassing to have your therapy dog trying to rub his head all over the mother of the person he’s supposed to be visiting), Lavender and Rosemary (since the plants were side by side and he’s a big guy I’m not sure which one he wanted to collect but he smelled good), rotting sea creature (sufficiently decayed that I couldn’t identify it beyond that), goose poop (could be worse but not one I’d wear), decomposing salmon (really really not good) and assorted unidentifiable others. All in all I have to give Ranger credit; he’s more often chosen smells I also like than chosen things that stink to me.
Sieger only did the really dramatic roll in a scent once, when he was about four months old. We were out walking in the woods on a hot (80-90 degree) August day and he suddenly flung himself into the brush along the trail. In apparent ecstasy, he rolled vigorously into whatever was there. When he finally stood up, there were the sad remains of some small rodent that had rotted mostly to mush before the heat dedicated them into a crispy hair-and-entrails pancake.
The only other scent rolling he does is in the dirty laundry basket. He usually does it at night, almost always while I am in the shower. He pilfers the object of his interest from the laundry basket and lays down with it, often burying his face in it. His favorite laundry items are underwear, socks, and particularly sweaty t shirts. He is an equal opportunity theif from all four family members.
Remus rolls in scent all the time. His favorite seems to be morning grass, preferably still dewy. He rolls in it every morning as though it is the most luxurious thing imaginable.
Wow, those apple roses look fantastic!
On the subject of rolling in filth, I have no single satisfactory explanation for why they do it, (though like you, I am highly skeptical about the scent camouflage and transfer of dog-stink onto the cow poop suggestions) but I am absolutely certain of one thing: They absolutely love it. Otis and Sandy will be practically giddy with glee after finding a good stink to anoint themselves with. Whyever they do it, the practice certainly seems to create a powerful wave of good feeling for them. The payoff is significant enough to entice even very correction-averse Sandy to disregard a desperately shouted, “Noooooooooooooooo!!!!!!!!” in order to dive into a quick roll- she acts much the same way she would if she found a juicy steak on the ground. She’ll come away, dutifully, but not until she grabs just one quick little bite.
Sandy and Otis are actually not terribly bad about rolling, given that their walks give them many opportunities, they manage to roll in something truly nasty fairly infrequently- maybe once every month or two while the snow’s not on the ground (only about seven months a year here ;-)) They like the usual things: Fox pee is a particular favorite, along with fox poop, goose poop (the least bad of a fairly nasty list), horse poop, cow poop, skunk spray, dead things (especially fish, but any dead animal will do), and rotten grass clumps (they ferment rather than dry out if we get enough rain- curiously enough the smell is almost indistinguishable from cow poop).
One of my dog owner friends and I, joking about an ad one of us had seen for “dog perfume” speculated that if there were a perfume shop for dogs, it would be full of trays of the most horrifying dead, rotten, and pungent things imaginable. (To be completely fair, however, human perfumes are traditionally made from some similarly disgusting ingredients, –ambergris, musk, civet– just cleverly blended to keep the stank just barely at or below the level of perception.) I’ve often wondered, given the famous sensitivity of dog noses and the overwhelmingly powerful effect on my weak little human nose, just what things must actually smell like to a dog- is it information overload, like a hallucinatory high? Can they discern pleasing complexity they way we can find a ripe cheese appealing despite the funk?
Whatever the answer, my dogs love to cover themselves in odors that will clear a room of human inhabitants in five seconds or less. I don’t think I have any particularly dramatic stories, however (though both of them have been on the receiving end of the FastBath with the Serious Soap as I mutter about how I am going to be late to work). The most memorable occasion that I can think of took place outside a winery. It was in the days before Sandy, and my husband and I were bringing Otis to an event called the Grapehounds, a benefit where dog-friendly wineries in the Finger Lakes (NY) host a wine trail tour open to dogs and people, serving wine, food, dog treats (it was a warm, sunny day- the dog favorite stop was serving frozen yogurt- VERY popular among the canine set) with the proceeds going to a Greyhound rescue.
It was a casual event, but still, it was a social occasion for the dogs, with lots of petting and milling about indoors with people drinking wine. Otis, clean and shining, was on his best behavior and his city walking leash (so how much trouble could he get into, right?)
Certainly that’s what we thought as we meandered nonchalantly along in the beautiful grassy “pit stop” area outside the very first winery on the tour. Still, I watched attentively for “hazards”, (as one does, when visiting a canine relief area). I was sure all was clear. A beautiful, happy day stretched before us, all just as it should be. And then it happened. Like seeing everything in slow motion, I caught a twitch out of the corner of my eye, whipped my head around and saw him, diving shoulder-first, stretching his brontosaurus neck eagerly forward toward some invisible target on the ground. I dove for him, but he was too quick. In one smooth motion, he’d coated himself from chin to scapula in the finest vintage fox pee on the wine trail.
Dismayed, but determined, we managed to recruit the assistance of the absolutely charming winery staff and arranged the use of an outdoor water spigot, roll of paper towels, and a generous handful of soap from the dispenser in the restroom. By vigorous application of these tools, we managed to reduce the unmistakable sweet-skunky aroma to tolerable levels, and undaunted, continued along our tour, where Otis was, fragrant contretemps notwithstanding, a resounding hit with both people and dogs alike.
I like to hope that the humans didn’t notice (he dries fast- one of the big advantages of his Great Dane micro-mini coat style), but I wonder if the dogs were impressed by the charming and stylish traces of eau de renard he’d managed to apply for the occasion.
Fox poo is Poppy’s favourite, with a side line in cow pats, preferably the kind with a thin crust over a sloppy interior for maximum spread. And as far from home as possible, to ensure a suitable odiferous car journey…
On a pleasanter note, your apple roses are amazing! I must have a go at making those.
Seemingly unusual, my dog likes a certain bird’s poop to roll in. I haven’t figured out what bird it belongs to but if we find it on a walk, he rolls in it. Luckily it’s small and not usually wet so it really doesn’t adhere to his fur or even smell(at least to me). But then there is the dead carcass that is almost as attractive.
Those apple roses look too pretty to eat! Congratulations on retirement from teaching. What a satisfying feeling to know you’ve enlightened so many young people. Altho I feel bad for the new students coming in to the university. “What? Patricia McConnell no longer teaches here? I want my money back!” 🙂
When I lived in the city and had my FCR, we would spend a lot of time off-leash in Central Park (in the morning they allow that). You have not experienced horror until your dog has found human feces to roll in. There was a good supply of it, either from runners or homeless people. There is that distinctive roll they do where their neck rubs into it first. That looks to me to be a way to make sure it gets into every crevice of their collar, including the buckle, then into their ear fur and canal. My dog loves to roll in grass, but when he does that, he just lays down and rolls, I actually love to see him do it as he looks so happy. But when they find something really horrible, they have to get their neck into it. There is very little rolling, it’s more like sliding their bodies all thru the muck. It just seems like 2 actions with 2 different goals.
Anyway, a human-feces coated dog is just a lovely thing to walk home with and take up in an elevator and have to wash in your bathtub. You yourself feel like you need to be dipped in hydrogen peroxide. One more reason I don’t miss the city.
As much as I miss my sense of smell now, I have to admit, it would be nice to be able to turn it on and off when you see your dog in that distinctive neck stretch about to hit the ground.
I think the worse has to be pig poo. It absolutely stinks! And it is seemingly impossible to get off too. And why oh why do dogs who love jumping with gay abandon into muddy dykes and festering pools of water look like you are leading them into a torture chamber when you say ‘bath time!’
I don’t have any stories about some occasions being worse than others because every time my dog rolls in poo it’s always a bad time as far as I am concerned. 🙂 However, she LOVES it. I like the theory about using rolling as a way of disseminating information to the pack but I wonder what is going on cognitively with that in mind? Or is the observed behaviour (rolling) just an instinct reaction (motor pattern sequence?). On observation of dogs’ecstatic pleasure whilst rolling in filth, I would offer that they may just really enjoy doing it and lovey being totally stinky.
Trisha, congratulations on your retirement from teaching. I’m secretly hoping that we may get some extra blog posts from you now? 😉 Or, are you planning on participating in more sheep dog handling trials? Whatever you do, I hope you enjoy it and thank you for continuing to share your knowledge with us so generously and graciously.
Some time ago, a friend and I vacationed at the Outer Banks with our collective five dogs. As we walked on one of the beautiful, pristine beaches, we came across the carcass of a beached dolphin that had recently been dissected by some oceanography students from a nearby aquarium.
The smell of the decomposing flesh in the hot sun was indescribable, and the dogs, of course, discovered it before we did. Their reactions were both fascinating and disgusting. The lone male, a Sheba mix, circled continually, anointing as much of it as he could with urine. The oldest female, an ESS, sat with her back to the mess, unmoving, about ten feet away pretending it didn’t exist. The Border Collie happily wandered the surrounding area investigating everything but the carcass. The youngest of the pack, another ESS, and a Doxie mix, enthusiastically hurled themselves onto the enormous mass, covering as much of their faces and bodies as possible with the putrid, melting blubber and guts.
I found the varied responses of the dogs quite interesting, and even amusing. What was not at all amusing was the car trip back to the beach house with incredibly smelly dogs and the numerous baths that followed as we searched for something that would eliminate the door. Needless to say, it was still evident several months later.
I own and operate a dog services business, part of which is a doggie daycare. We have a field that is about an acre, all fenced in, where the dogs can run and play. From the get go, there has been one spot in that field where almost all of the dogs love to roll. I feel like there must be something growing there that attracts them. There’s also an underground spring in that same area, so perhaps it has something to do with that. There’s no scent that we humans can detect, so who knows! We have another dog who will roll in the stinkiest, most disgusting dog poop if we don’t get it picked up fast enough. Full roll, from the back of the neck, including into his collar, shoulder, down the side and back. And, he’s a standard poodle, so it’s not easy to clean him up! Fortunately, my own dog, a Springer, outgrew her fondness for rolling in turkey poop, which she tended to do when we were in the midst of a scheduled dog grooming day so the tub was unavailable. Maybe it was the impromptu baths with the hose that helped curb her appetite!
My first dog would eat, rather than roll in, vile-smelling things such as decaying groundhog. I thought this was revolting until I discovered the joys of having a roller. In my experience, rollers employ one of two strategies. Most of our dogs carefully positioned the rotting material at their shoulder before sliding forward to create a long smear of putrefaction.
One of our dogs developed a more effective technique. He would dive head-first into the foulness and then squirm joyfully, leaving himself thoroughly coated from head to toe. Needless to say, with this dog we became quite adept at recognizing his pre-rolling behavior.
The most target-rich rolling environment I have ever experience was during a walk along the C&O Canal. This part of the canal is typically dry, temporarily flooded by the Potomac River after heavy rains. As the waters receded, the now-drying canal was left filled with rotting carp. The dogs, to their great chagrin, stayed leashed during the worst sections.
Fortunately, none of our three current dogs has (yet?) developed the habit of rolling in stinky stuff. Our Samoyed joyfully rolls in long grass, which leaves her smelling like a meadow.
I will offer a personal anecdote and a theory on why dogs roll in “stinky” stuff. One day I was out cutting the grass. Each time I passed by the open kitchen window I got a whiff of what smelled like Thai fish sauce, a wonderful condiment made from fermented (OK, rotten) fish. I assumed that my wife was heating up the Thai curry I had made the previous evening. Each time I passed by the kitchen window the scent became stronger, and my mouth started to water. After a few more passes with the mower I realized that the scent was not fish sauce, but a poor baby bird that had been dead in the grass for some time.
If a long-dead baby bird can make my mouth water, perhaps it is not so farfetched to surmise that fermented critters motivate our dogs to anoint themselves with the Hawaiian shirt of the olfactory world (great quote, Trish!) to impress, inform, or attract their peers.
My family teases that my sense of smell is as keen as any dog we’ve had. It certainly seems so when I seem to be the only one who smells the “Peeew!” brought in on one of the dogs and now happily shared with the human pack by rubbing it onto the area rugs or even our bed! Unfortunately we have 2 neighbors who allow their cats out/in – those cats loved to use my yard for their litter box -years ago it included my children’s sand box. In spring I really have to be on the look out as those 2 cats have deposited in every flower bed, vegetable garden, tree area on our property. Our 3 cats watch out the window with amused expressions as a cus and dance needing to change my garden gloves or even clothes. Our black lab is Lucy and she is a dunce! She eats cat poop whenever someone leaves the laundry room door open and can be counted on to come up with her black muzzle covered in litter grit with horrid breath. She never rolls in it – too good to waste on that I guess! She rolls and eats her & our other dogs poo on occasion unless we keep up on the corpophagia med.
One of our cats will roll and wiggle in our son’s dirty laundry. She runs to him when he comes in the door and has to mark him every day. YET – leave a basket of clean laundry sitting unattended and 2 of our cats have been known to urinate on the items! I think they are all a bit off!
Based on the weird, blissed-out looks on their faces when they roll on dead worms, snakes, birds, etc, I’d have to guess they do it because they like it. They like it so much it gives them a chemical high. The facial expression does not match any other.
Mine have rolled in fox poop, while we were hiking and needed to ride in the car to get home. Maddie never looked sadder than when I washed it off. And she once rolled in something whose smell could best be described as: Something small died, then something bigger peed on it. Delightful.
Deidre Blankenship says
Worst thing. Had a old rescued racing greyhound who dragged home a rancid pig skin that he appeared to have dug up from somewhere…and rolled in before bringing the treasured object home. So FOUL!
Price Is Right style, I tell my dogs “you’ve won…. a free bath!!!!” every time they roll in something disgusting.
We have two dogs, a whippet/? and a border collie/aussie. We’ve had the whippet/? for over four years, and in that time she’s won herself several free baths for her rolling escapades. The worst was when we were hiking off-leash and she found something dead and vile and truly awful. I think it had to have been a very dead animal? Not sure. The smell alone was enough that I almost vomited in the 10 minute drive home, even with all windows down. She did it the next day, running further out than she’d run before ( perhaps she knew we were planning to leash her?). I wish I could say this wasn’t a three day event, but…. after the third day we learned our lesson, and waited until the floods had washed it out to let her off leash there again 🙂
The border collie mix is intent on rolling in whatever he can find, whenever he can find it, for however long it takes for the humans to stop him. Oftentimes I can’t even see what he’s rolling in, but I sure can smell it once it’s on him. (Unfortunately, he does NOT take to his free baths well… but at this rate, he’ll probably learn that they mean treats soon.) Once I caught him rolling in poop, carrying it in his mouth for a ways, and then dropping it so he could roll in it again. He’s only about a year and a half old (we’ve had him 2 months), so I’m hoping it’s a phase.
Echo’s attraction is limited to dead things. And since parasites will abandon a dead host, I’ve wondered if she might be using it as a form of insect repellent?
Sue Asten says
SHEEP POOP! All the time. Yuck. Especially after the pasture has started coming in and it is especially green and gooey.
Your apple roses are simply magnificent!
I have a 2 year old female catahoula/basenji mix and a 1 year old male catahoula that i thoroughly enjoy just watching. They are completely opposite, night and day in everything they do – so it’s fun to see those differences play out in average day-to-day life, how they manage problems, deal with new stresses, etc.
My female loves skunks, she gets excited when she smells one nearby and ‘logically’ one would assume she wants to hunt and kill it. The two times i’ve watched the exchange – in what feels like slow motion with my feet weighing a thousand pounds each and i’ve lost the ability to scream “no! leave it!” – she looks like she’s trying to PLAY! The first time she was sprayed at midnight, thankfully a Friday so i had all of Saturday to de-skunk the house. The second time it was only 9pm but i was absolutely maxed trying to prepare a foster dog to catch a plane the next day. i lived with the smell until i got the foster dog safely off. Other than the skunks the girl doesn’t take interest in smelly things and i’ve never seen her intentionally roll in something gross.
My male, however, loves fox scent. i put the hunting scents – in very small amounts – on their toys for nose games, hide and seek or even just late night fetch. No noticeable reaction to the rabbit or squirrel, but that boy loves the fox. You can see how much pleasure he gets from rolling around in it and it makes me laugh since he’s a hound-type … The fox scent is awful, smells like a musty old basement infested with dead things. I can only imagine how much worse fox poop is – I guess I’m lucky that foxes haven’t shown up in the backyard yet.
Kat: I love your description of son and Ranger both carrying home “something interesting”. And happy birthday to Ranger, what an interesting dog he is!
em and others have made great points about how much dogs seem to love rolling in strong smells. I agree absolutely. They seem as ecstatic about it as we are distressed (at least if we’re talking fox poop or dead fish here). Surely that must help us when we ponder why they do it. I can’t imagine being so darn happy about self-anointing if the goal was to camouflage one’s own scent. It seems as though the dogs love these scents, that they are thrilled not just to find them, but to add them to their own bodies. That seems to me to support the “perfume equivalent” hypothesis–the dogs love the smell themselves, and the smell makes them more attractive to others. em’s point is well taken, that human perfumes contain lots of substances that some might consider disgusting (whale ‘vomit’ [well, not really], glands from the private parts of other animals…). I mention in The Other End of the Leash that dogs seem to find many of our own perfumes disgusting, even putting on the “universal” expression of disgust that even Darwin talked about. I like to joke that the dogs are saying: “Argh! You have plant genitalia on you! (Which is indeed what many plant based perfumes are made of…) Disgusting!”
Several of you also mentioned the action of rolling. I too have seen dogs seem to prefer smearing their shoulders, neck and side of the head with the scent. I wonder why? They could get the scent on their paws, on their rumps, but they do seem to lead with their shoulders. Is that because it’s physically the easiest way to smear one’s body in something on the ground? Or because that’s where they want the scent to be? And most importantly, who is going to do their PhD on this, anyway?
My past dog, Maya, never rolled in stinky things. She lounged around on her back at home, and occasionally rolled in dirt in the back yard, but out in the big scary world she was far too vigilant and wary to try rolling. Just once was she tempted, by fox poop, and as she dipped her shoulder to roll I was filled with wild delight — there is nothing quite like seeing your fearful dog relax enough to try something “naughty” and normal.
Gila, the current silly dog, rolls in everything. Dead worms, carefully carried to a suitable spot and then mashed into the ground are a favorite (and afterwards, she can have a mashed worm snack!). Long grass. Short grass. Dandelions. Dead things, poop, mud, rotten leaves, favorite toys, dirty clothes. Her face splits into a lolling grin, her body curves in ecstatic arcs, and it looks positively euphoric. On hot sunny days in the back yard, I have tried joining in (though I restrict myself to long grass, short grass, or dandelions), and it does feel pretty good…but not as good as the rush I get from looking over and seeing all that doggy joy.
Funny how some dogs love stinky stuff and others show no interest. My little dog loves dead worms the best. My Springer Spaniel loved bird droppings.
Gayle MacLean says
Is this trait inherited? My dog rolls in disgusting stuff, as in ‘the deader the better’, at least one of her litter sisters likes to do that too, their Mother does it and so does her sire & maternal grand-sire. However, not one of my previous dogs (all of these dogs are the same breed, btw) ever did it, and none of their sires, dams, or litter mates, did either.
Lorie Coenen says
The worst thing our dog rolled in was a big rotting fish. This is probably not unusual but it was in the middle of the school soccer field where you would not expect a fish. turns out where we live very near the Wisconsin river (Sauk City) the eagles fly over with fish and drop them around town.
Suzi Scholtz says
My stinky story took place when my sons were toddlers. I have Afghan Hounds. In full coat. We were making a trip to visit my parents (NOT dog people) so I had taken the extrat time to groom my two Afghan girls just before we left, so they would be perfectly clean. After a 3 hour ride in the car, we arrived, unloaded and settled in, finally getting toddlers to bed, and I was exhausted. My dad offered to take my (beautifully clean) Afghan hounds out for their last evening toilet time, (while he enjoyed his last cigarette outdoors, not being alowed to smoke in the house). I gratefully accepted. Did I mention that this was late fall? In a wooded neighborhood? While dear ol’ Dad was enjoying his cig, my girls found something (probably cat poo) in the dried leaves and commenced to roll. Dad thought they were havng such a good time that it didn’t occur to him to stop them (YES, they WERE on leash!!!!!) until they stood up and he barely recognized them as dogs – they more resembled leaf creatures. When he called to me and asked what he should do with the dogs, I said just bring them in and they would find me upstairs, where they would sleep in my room …. then he hesitated and said I had better come look…..
I wanted to cry…. and I think I did. Then I put my coat on, got out the one pin brush I always pack with me, and went outdoors to brush all those leaves out of them. It was so cold that it wasn’t until I was half-way through the first dog that I smelled the stink. It took me 45 minutes to brush out both dogs, then I had to leave them in the back entryway overnight because they smelled so bad. There was no place at my parent’s home to bathe or dry them, so I had to call a groomer the next day to give them a bath. I gave strict instructions to just bathe and dry them, and still when I picked them up, their feet had been trimmed to look like a Cocker’s – BIG NO-NO for showing Afghans in the breed ring. Again I was in tears, it would take months for those trimmed feet to look natural again!
My dad offered to pay for the grooming, but he was shocked when I told him it cost $80 – he was expecting about $10 like his mutt cost back then (1989?) So he paid half.
Dad never offered to take my dogs out again. And I didn’t ask him to.
Willow is a malamute we rescued from the city pound. She was found/caught in a Walmart parking lot after dodging a few other rescue attempts. We know for sure she was returned once to the pound after her initial visit. From other clues, we suspect she had 3 homes before us and boy do we know why!
She can sniff out any pile of human feces in the public park where we walk! In the first year we had her she literally rolled and ate human feces 10 times. Of course it happened more when I walked her than when she was with my husband.
I bought your books just so I could find the answer as to why this absolutely majestic white wolf-look alike canine, would want to roll in something so disgusting. It makes sense that she wants to smell good but I think she is starting to notice it doesn’t smell nice to us.
Luckily, she does not like the hose and the incidences are happening less and less. Her more recent rolls have been fresh black bear or moose. We are also getting smarter and walking further into the park on less popular trails. We also are able to identify when she is about to, at least we think we can, she sniffs real strong, a smile comes to her face and she bolts into the woods.
Her spell over us has not broken but hopefully the she learns control when she is around the enchanting aroma of human poop!
And when you think about it, their smear/roll looks very similar to what they often do after a bath, where I always think it looks like they are trying to get the lousy “clean” smell off of them. So what does that mean? Maybe they always think they smell bad and both are exercises in trying to clean themselves! 😉
I bathe my dogs every week. I quite enjoy this process, each dog gets up to about 30 minutes or so exclusively with me, a tub of warm water, and an assortment of lotions and potions. I’m a rough-and-ready kind of girl (the rationale is simple… I’d rather do something than wait for my nail polish to dry), but with my dogs, all that goes out the window. Once upon a time I teased a male friend for having different creams for his toenails, feet, heels, finger nails and hands, yet weekly, you’ll find me gleefully digging through my assortment to decide whether my pug will have white on white shampoo, coconut foot butter, blackest black conditioner (for her ears and the tip of her tail, of course, the rest will absolutely have to have a different kind… blackest black on fawn fur? That’s just indecent), and a melon misting spray to finish, or whether she’ll have soft-n-silky shampoo, Iranian sea-salt and shea butter for her feet, shed-b-gone fur treatment followed by a high shine conditioner, with a cinnamon misting spray, or whether … you get the idea.
With great anticipation and some trepidation we decided we’d host my gran last Friday. My dad’s mom, this woman is an astonishing matriarch. Her life story starts South Africa’s Western Cape, where, after having gotten out of the concentration camps, her parents returned home to find what once was a sustainable farm is now nothing. No money, no resources, the answer was, of course, to join the army. Then there was the second world war.
Her home life was so miserable that she decided the first good man she meets, she’ll marry. A random mix-up in the mail, and a chance letter written by a decent man had her meeting my grandfather. They were married at city hall, no white dress, no flowers and only one picture to show for it. They worked hard. My grandfather got a job in the post office – these jobs were reserved for white persons at the time. That does not make them easy jobs, he worked long, long hours and got little pay. They had four kids that all got university educations. The first kid had a pink jersey that his mom knitted for him with the only wool she had. He was ashamed, but he was warm, and now he’s a Cambridge University fellow. The second kid became a primary school teacher and was much beloved by her students. The third one manages the entire police communications network of the Northern provinces of South Africa, and the youngest, ever the favourite, is a Microsoft specialist working for an international company.
This is not a soft, friendly woman. I have the utmost respect for her, but that respect is tinged with a generous helping of honest fear. She is vocal in her views of right and wrong, I have never been quite the right sort of female in her opinion. My husband, an Englishman, so ‘fresh off the boat’ that his accent is still British, is hardly a tanned, leather skinned farm owner, which is of course, what a man should be. Never mind that she does not speak English, and Justin, well, he speaks as much Afrikaans as any of you might. We invited my uncle, the youngest of the four, and his family too, as a buffer.
So Ouma is coming for dinner, and I cook. I might have missed the boat on some of the finer aspects of womanhood, but let me tell you, when I decide to whip out a proper dinner, the neighbourhood salivates. Pampoenkoekies, freshly baked bread, roast leg of lamb (soft enough to barely need cutting), green beans, a potato salad, a carrot salad, a three-bean salad, a baked chicken dish, and lastly, creamed spinach and feta. Desert is melktert and roly poly, with custard and ice cream.
I also clean. For my gran, cleanliness is more than next to godliness, it’s proof that you’re a decent human being. This house must be spotless. I will always remember one day, staying with them for Christmas, when my sister and I was tasked with cleaning the room we occupied. And boy, did we clean. The room was gleaming. The beds were made so precisely you could lay a spirit level on them and not find them wanting. My gran walked in to inspect, turned around and wiped her finger along the top of the door lintel. Needless to say, it came away quite brown, and our cleaning was deemed inadequate. Lesson learnt.
The dogs must also be spotless. Dogs in the house are already an issue. Dogs on the furniture? What is going on here? My only saving grace is that my dogs always smell nice, and that my gran, having discovered that they smell nice and are soft and wonderful to touch, rather enjoys having Talos on her lap.
So with the leg of lamb safely in the oven and the salads and sides made, I run a bath, and merrily set about deciding on the specific blend of magic that will present each dog at their best. My sausage mix goes in, and comes out gleaming black, soft and silky. The pug goes in, and comes out super soft and mostly de-shed.
Later, everyone arrives and is greeted. Pug and sausage have had their gran greeting protocol sharpened up, so as she appears from the car, two butts plop on to the floor and four brown eyes stare imploringly at her to deem them appropriate. She feeds them sweets from her purse, and they scatter to the garden to run victory laps at having performed adequately. So far, so good. I offer drinks all around… my gran says that something smells nice, and I feel wonderfully affirmed. Her statement prompts everyone to sniff deeply, and that’s when it hits me.
A very particular malodorous whiff, one which is known intimately to dog owners all over the world. No one else seems to have noticed, so I hand over drink serving to the husband (not quite protocol, but desperate times…). I politely excuse myself, feeling relieved that no one else seems to have noticed.
Where are the dogs? I breathe deeply in the hallway, and nearly gag. It seems to be coming from the kitchen.
My first clue is a dark brown trail of footprints on the tile floor. Smudged, so it’s hard to tell whether this is coming in or going out, but logically, there are no brown, reeking things inside, so with some reluctance I conclude that said mess had been brought in. Into the house containing my grandmother.
Luckily they head down the hallway, away from the lounge. Towards the bedrooms, sure, but I can change sheets and burn mattresses… I follow them down the hall with a mop, cleaning as I go.
The stink is worth the time of a better poet than I. We are not talking about the mere smell of poop. No, poop is barely an undertone to the bouquet of fetid aroma. Death is not a strong enough word. I swear I could see green trails of scent coming off them, clawing at my pants leg, grasping at my arms, coming for my nose.
The print-smudges become lighter as we go, almost disappearing when we reach the bedroom carpet. On the couch sits the sausage, and for a moment, the poor pup gets a death glare. She licks her lips, and I step closer, to find a clean, sweet smelling dog. Alright, so we know who the culprit is. I’m half hoping, half dreading finding the guilty party under the bed tucked in between my scarves, her royal highness’s hiding spot of choice. Under the bed there is nothing.
The window is open and set up with a ramp to allow the dogs in-and-out access. Pug must have headed outside! Lucky day, I can still get her into her crate before anyone notices my dog is the foulest smelling hound in the history of dogs who roll in dead things. I spot her through the window, and indeed, there she is, further anointing herself on a brown pile.
As I unlock the door to go get her, the sound of the key in the door makes Pug freeze where she was previously a whirlwind of activity. She looks up, and through the glass, we make eye contact. She blinks, a trail of brown hanging over her head and down to her nose… and she’s gone. Running like the very devil is chasing her. I get the door open and set off after her. The dead thing must have been one of the sausage’s victims, long buried and recently unearthed for ritual bathing purposes by Pug. I cannot say what it once was, aside from living.
It’s not hard to see where the pug went. A trail of vileness marks her passing. She went right around the house, bypassing the kitchen door (much to my temporary relief). As I’m about two thirds of the way around, I hear the conversation and laughter fall abruptly silent. Our lounge has low windows, all of which are open to let in the late winter afternoon’s warmth and fresh air. A trail of brown leads straight to one of those.
Lead footed, I walk into the lounge. There, content as you please, is my little madam curled up on my gran’s lap. Everyone is holding their noses, except my gran. She is white as a sheet, sitting perfectly still. Her eyes are wide as saucers.
My walking in seems to trigger something, and my uncle says “so, where were we? Oh, yes, the kids’ grades in school…”
… no one says anything about the dog, now snoring on my gran’s lap, reeking of decay.
A delicate balance hung in the air. A complicit group delusion… if we ignore it, it doesn’t exist. My gran tells us about the lady next door’s attempts to lure the doctor to her house, and Pug rolls over on to her back, paws in the air, exposing fresh dead bits to the atmosphere. My aunt speaks of work, puggy snores loudly, stands up, and resettles herself with her head propped up on my gran’s delicately folded knee. The husband shares a story of recent escapades at his band practice, and the pug starts dreaming, splattering little droplets of doom as she chases bunnies in her sleep.
Half an hour later we stand up for dinner, and still no one has said anything about the dog-of-death. I put said dog in her crate, to prevent further contamination.
Everyone eats lightly, the food is delicious, but the smell of death permeates the air and robs us of our appetite.
No one wants dessert, and soon after the obligatory post-dinner coffee, everyone heads home, ending the evening fairly early.
No one says anything about the brown mess on my gran’s clothing.
On Saturday I get the most surreal phone call of my life – my gran, calling to thank me for the lovely dinner. The dog is not mentioned. Her ruined clothes are not mentioned.
And the pug? She was bathed again. And again. And once more, because my word was that some smell. While I’m doing this, the intrepid husband takes a gas mask, a haz mat suit and a plastic bag and cleans up the mess outside. At one point I hear him using the power washer… the next day revealed no grass remaining in that spot… but we’re not talking about it.
I bet my pug figured she’s bringing the greatest smell ever to the matriarch.
Deb Holmes says
My dog has had her share of smelly rolls: decaying skunk, bear poop, rotting shellfish; but the most bizarre rolling I’ve ever witnessed was a neighbor’s two goldens.
These dogs rolled not just once, but three times, in the same dead porcupine. (Clearly this friend was not burying the thing deep enough and unfortunately was in the habit of letting his dogs roam all over the area).
The first time the dogs came home covered with quills and had a nasty and prolonged session with pliers. But they rolled again the next day and the next.
Try sticking your finger lightly with a quill. It feels like a bee sting and hurts even more coming out. What would compel a dog to continue a behavior that resulted in so much pain?
Interestingly, my dog’s rolling in stinky stuff declines with each year of age. But she absolutely delights in rolling in fresh snow, fallen leaves and woods fungi. All things that leave little or no odor. And when she’s really happy or excited, she loves to roll on her back on my carpet.
Since we’re in the middle of tick season here in the North woods, I’m wondering if rolling is a behavior somehow linked to getting rid of ticks and other parasites. Deer fare better with winter ticks than do moose because the deer are better at grooming. Could rolling give dogs an advantage in the battle against parasites?
Ah, smelly things. At one time I had a husky mix who loved all things poop scented, and a newfie, who loved all things dead and rotting. With those two it seemed as if I could never win, as we almost always ran into one or the other. Both dogs had a great recall, so as long as I witnessed the shoulder drop in time I could save myself the olfactory assault of the actual shoulder grind and roll, which brings me to two different stories. One time, walking along the oceanfront where I lived, I noticed the newfie making a very determined beeline for something while the husky nonchalantly trotted by – my first clue that something dead and rotting lay nearby. Scanning the beach I realized that one of the logs was in fact a washed up sea lion and promptly called off my dog. As she came trotting towards me she threw a wistful look over her shoulder, one which I followed with my own gaze – only to witness a gloriously groomed, fluffy and pristinely white american eskimo swan dive into the carcass. The ecstatic grin on the now grotesquely smeared white dog’s face as it reappeared was in stark contrast to the disgust, panic, and horror evident in the owner’s shrill voice now echoing down the beach. I was both highly amused, and very smug feeling about my own dog’s recall. Fast forward a few years to when the husky had died and my newf was an older, and slower, dog. I was newly in love and on my way to meet my girlfriend’s family for the first time at her sister’s wedding. We were spending the weekend at her parent’s place. Arriving Friday evening we headed to one of the local parks at a nearby lake after dinner to walk the dog. Strolling down one of the paths, I became aware of a particularly foul and fishy smell that seemed to grow stronger as we progressed. As her family were decidedly not dog people, we decided to take the safer route and retrace our steps rather than complete our planned circuit. Again, I was feeling rather smug about Nordic the newfie’s recall – until I noticed the smell following us. Turns out she’d already found the rotting fish, had a good roll, and ingested some for good measure. In addition to being rotten and smelly, the fish was also supremely oily. I scrubbed the dog’s fur with sand in the really cold fall lake as night was falling, leaving me numb and her only minimally less offensive. She slept in the truck that night (familiar and comfortable to her thanks to our camping excursions) and in the morning got a good scrub with shampoo in an effort to reduce the offense. Alas, the smell never really went away or even reduced much. Instead we just added a layer of lavender notes on top. Nordic spent the rest of the weekend assaulting guests with all of her 130lb, full coated newfie self thoroughly doused in eau de lavender-scented-dead-fish, making an indelible impression on all attendees and guaranteeing her a place in the family lore even though my own relationship didn’t work out.
Linda Cagan says
Living in NH it’s really easy to live amongst the wildlife … Last year my neighbors were so excited to tell me that they saw a very large Moose in my front yard..We’ve lived in this home for almost 30 years and have seen a lot of Mooses..one actually trotted thru our driveway like a horse..
So now, my the 8 year old female corgi Shade, who has an excellent recall disappeared for what I thought was no apparent reason ..When I went to look for her, I found her rolling in what I thought was bear poo.
Nope, it was Moose Doo…she was rolling in the exact area that my neighbors saw the moose in..
The smell of Moose Doo Is far worse than the smell of a moose..we had to wear masks and hose her down with shampoo several times before we could even thnk about bringing her I to the house …..
My parents are extremely frugal people, so buying a new sofa is a big deal to them. The sofa – a light tan microsuede fabric – had been delivered and in the home for a few hours. Their young Aussie took that time to visit the neighbor’s yard, which had been host to a flock of geese earlier that day, rolled in the goose poop, and came back in the house (yes, opened the door himself), and then rubbed himself all over the new sofa, which turned half green.
Not particularly stinky, but still, YUCK!!!
It was so absurd, even they were crying with laughter.
Susan Whelan says
A rolling incident I’ll never forget didn’t involve anything stinky. I lived on a racing horse farm and was taking my Jack Russell for a walk down to the racetrack. A fellow with a beautiful new truck was talking to my stepson and his shih tzu kept following us, so I asked him if he’d be there long enough for his dog to come for a walk with us around the track, which was fine with him. Bert, the shih tzu, trotted along happily enough with us until we got to the road off the track that went to the pond in the middle. He tore down the track and leaped in the water before I even had a chance to open my mouth. Bert had a nice swim and trotted back with us to the track where he proceeded to roll and roll and roll in the stonedust. I’ve never seen anything like him – this amazing little mudball – you know how long a shih tzu’s hair is – with nothing but his beady eyes and pink tongue in his laughing mouth to show he was a dog. I didn’t know whether to be horrified, thinking about the new truck waiting for Bert, or kill my self laughing at how much he looked like something from a horror film. We walked and walked on the side of the track (where the pond wasn’t!) back and forth, trying to dry him off, hoping some of the mud would fall off, but every time he’d lose a little, he’d roll again. I finally returned him to his owner, thinking how upset he’d be, but he just laughed and told me Bert loved water so much he’d roll in the run-off from the manure pile. I’ll never forget Bert – that disgusting little ball of mud, laughing at me with his nice clean pink tongue.
Susan S. says
I agree with Kat. The worst smell ever was decomposing salmon, & it glistens. I had a glittery rainbow dog until I got to a hose. And what is it about fox poop, except that it adheres well? My female dogs seem to like to put scent right behind their ears like (some) women do.
So much to talk about! I’m going to do a dog rolling in something disgusting and life after taking your UW-Madison class!
First, rolling in something gross. It was a beautiful day, and I was going into the backyard to run around with Brandy, the best dog there ever was. Really. 🙂 Brandy bounded down the stairs ahead of me. That part I remember. I think it was just starting to be Spring because it wasn’t too hot or too cold, it was just right. I felt like Goldilocks. Brandy was sniffing around and rolling in the grass. That was Phase 1 in the backyard. Phase 2 was running around in circles. I beamed with happiness as I walked toward her. “Awww. Look how happy she is as she rubs her back into the ground, legs kicking all around! Just. The. Cutest!” I dropped to the ground to lie next to her and “$#&!(#!!&^ YOU’RE ROLLING IN A DEAD SQUIRREL!!!”
I guess this isn’t actually a “worst possible time” story, but there’s really never an optimal time for a dog to roll in a dead squirrel. It’s just gross.
Second, taking your class at UW-Madison was one of the most important things to happen in my life! I was a senior at UW-Madison and still mighty confused about most everything. Then, I enrolled in you class, ‘The Biology and Philosophy of Human-Animal Relationships,’ and I started looking forward to something. I wanted to do all the reading and the thinking about this wonky relationship we have with animals. And now I get to study this fascinating species that we live with! Can’t thank you enough for spending 25 years passing this information into the minds of students!
JIM Payne says
Our Basset hound Maile , who lived with us for fifteen year had an affinity for a fungus that grows in the swampy ground near our house. She found it every time we let her wonder off lead in the woods. It was stinky ,almost greasy , and was hard to wash from her fur. She would have gotten a bunch more exercise over the years had she stayed away from that stuff.
Dear Julie (That’s Julie Hecht of Dog Spies, the writer of one truly great blog and the most knowledgeable person about up-to-the-minute research on dog behavior that I know): Thank you more than I can say for your kinds words about the class. To say that I am proud of you sounds so trite, but I am. You’ve taken anything I could give you and run, run, run… in the best of all possible ways. It was always the students that made teaching the class so rewarding, and it’s knowing how much good some of them–like you–are doing in the world that warms my heart.
Speak of the devil, just yesterday morning I had cause to wonder why dogs roll in stink. Actually, to be more specific I was wondering why a dog who rolled in odor (of unknown origin) would then proceed to roll repeatedly near the house. (She rolled in an unkempt part of the property too thick for all but the most determined or well equipped humans to access.) So yeah, she covers herself in this death/feet/gym bag-smelling combo, then rolls in two places while groaning. Did she put too much on and was trying to be less stinky? I posited this after she her roll after getting atrociously skunked. Was she trying to mark the ground and was out of urine? It was at the end of our time outside, she often marks near the house, and if she was marking it would be a splendid blend of her own scent mixed with whatever grossness that was. Maybe her travels through the dewy brush left her too damp for her liking, and she was rolling to be rid of excess moisture. Or the aphids on her coat made her itch, wherein her rolling had nothing to do with being stinky. I left the subject thinking that it might be a combination of intentions, and the idea lingered (bad pun) while reading this.
Maybe dogs roll in odors for a variety of overlapping reasons. Like so many things dog, maybe there are a few generalizations that stand across the species, but that upon closer examination, it depends on the context and/or the individual.
Oh my, yes, Congratulations!
Where we live in the Southwest we have a serious rattlesnake problem. As the weather heats up, it becomes less safe to have the dogs off leash anywhere except our large walled courtyard. Our adult dogs have rattlesnake “proofing” but pups have to be a minimum of 6 months old to have this training. Last week we had an unusually cool morning and I decided it was cool enough to safely take our three dogs (Tyro adult male Kangal, Lily adult female Pyr and Ru 4 month old female Kangal) into our very large fenced vegetable garden. Much of it is planted in cover crops right now and they love to race around in huge circles in rye and vetch plants that are up to Ru’s shoulder. They chased a few bunnies that had gotten through the fence and Ru followed them over to the fence and spent some time sniffing. I naively thought she was sniffing bunny breeze until she darted forward, grabbed something and turned to look at me. Even from a distance I could see she had a SNAKE! and made an involuntary movement towards her which sent her racing to the other end of the garden. It was obviously dead from the way it stuck out on either side of her mouth but even a dead rattlesnake can be a hazard. Interior panic was setting in but as I wondered whether my baby was being irreparably poisoned but I remembered throughout all Trisha’s books her guidance to think like a canine rather than a primate. So, trying to put on the puppy mind, I called the big dogs and start running to the opposite end of the garden. Thankfully she had to follow but I could see she still had half the snake. I opened the gate and ran out of the garden and in her haste to follow me, Ru dropped the snake. I was able to clip her leash on just in time to be hit with a HORRIBLE smell. The snake had been dead some time but not dried out dead. This was by far the worst smell I have ever encountered in all my doggy years. Give me horrendous coyote dung or even a skunk over this deathly smell. Ru had obviously not only been chewing on it but had rolled in it as well. Somehow the smell stuck to me worse than her. She was soon smelling her normal self and I had hands I couldn’t stand to be near. Maybe because she licked me in her enthusiasm for the great new game I was playing?! I might be able to put on the puppy mind in dire straights but I definitely don’t have the puppy body. Still paying for that sprint down the garden!
Monica Kalistar says
Years ago I worked for an outdoor program where all the staff lived on site at a basecamp. This was prior to having dogs in my life. I was on lunch break and opened up a can of cod liver pate which was swimming in oil. Not wanting to pour the oil down the drain I stepped out onto the balcony and poured it onto the grass down below. Unbeknownst to me my boss’s dog, a cute Australian Shepherd, sought out the smell and of course rolled in it. Not long after that my boss, who was all dressed up in a suit and tie to go do a presentation at a school, called his dog to say good-bye. She happily got petted and hugged before my boss clued in that not only was there a nasty stench on her but that the oil was staining his suit! My own dogs have of course rolled in all kinds of nasty stuff that a rural environment offers but I do hope they never encounter what to me would be the worst of all – greasy, oily, stinky cod liver oil. LOL
Oo oo my turn to list weird things my dog has rolled in! Most recently it was fresh road paint, which stood out magnificently on her black fur. we never got it completely out. Just had to wait for her to shed it off.
Runner up: silly string that some teens (I assume, I imagine most adults wouldn’t do this…) sprayed around the park we frequent.
Also I like the Hawaiian shirt theory. I’d always been told/read about the “masking scent” reason as well, and it always felt a bit off to me, so I’m glad someone who knows what they are talking about feels the same way 😀
Oh also re: marking with pee… my dog has an especial fondness for peeing on top of bird poop, which is unfortunately usually on concrete sidewalks which = sort of embarrassing for me.
Rachel Weiher says
Just writing in as one of your former students (spring of 2012)! Sad to hear you will no longer be teaching the class at Madison, but congratulations on your retirement!!! I still tell everyone it was my favorite undergraduate course I ever took….because it was! It was definitely the one class I looked forward to the most, even on days when I really didn’t feel like walking up Bascom Hill. Was just having a conversation about it a few weeks ago actually, talking about when you brought Willie in for the sheep herding demo, one of my favorite activities we did as a class. I’m now a 4th year veterinary student at the University of Minnesota (although still a Wisconsin native and Badger fan, hoping to return to the area after graduation). Will definitely be using all the knowledge I’ve gained from you and your writing when I’m out in practice. Thanks for everything and once again congratulations!
I think anytime your dog finds delight in the unthinkable is not a good time … for us humans anyway. My dog got sprayed by a skunk once. When he rolls I usually don’t find what he is rolling in and always think “he’s so happy”. But I must admit to whiffing skunk on occasion when I know he’s rolled and when I know he was not the direct hit of the skunk back end aim. I’m afraid he likes the scent much more than I do.
Perhaps Pip was preparing for the party?
Anyway, congrats on your decision to retire from teaching to take time for yourself…although I know your students will miss you as I will if you ever decide to leave the blog.
We’d spent a lovely weekend at the cabin, and were packing the car for the four hour drive back. Suddenly, the dog comes trotting up to the car, covered in…. we don’t know what the hell she found. It was muddy, greenish, slimy and smelled to high heaven. We ended up bathing her with dish soap because it was all we had with us. Car smelled like wet dog the whole way home, but that was preferable to the alternative.
Also once had a dog find a maggoty mouse in the garage. He specifically took it outside to the grass so he could roll in it. Apparently, comfort is a factor in addition to smell.
I once took my six-month old Lab mix, Abby, with me on a camping journey in the back woods of Montana. As we backpacked down the trail, we passed several hikers who warned “careful out there, the grizzlies are really busy this time of year.” We arrived at a small lake, and while I set up the tent, Abby ran around the rocks at the lake’s edge.
All too late I looked up to see her on her back, all four feet wiggling gleefully in the air. She had dug up a whole treasure trove of rotten fish guts, shallowly buried by fishermen, and had covered herself in the oiliness, fishiest-smelling sludge you could imagine. Washing her in the lake had almost no effect due to the oil, and I spent a futile fifteen minutes rubbing her down with pine needles in a desperate attempt to cover the smell. It was a very long night spent in a flimsy tent, just lying there awake with my delectable appetizer of a fish-covered puppy, waiting for the parade of hungry grizzlies to show up. Thankfully, none came. But we beat a fast path back to the car the next morning, and splurged on a motel room the next night. I left a good tip on the table, I felt so bad for whoever had to clean the bathtub after we left!
I have a question about dogs rolling in good (at least I hope they’re good) smells. Luckily, ours don’t roll in gross stuff very often; in that case it’s usually worms or bird poop.
However, they do have daily rolling routines in the house. At bedtime, they head to the bedroom before we do where they proceed to vigorously roll on our bed with lots of moaning sounds. OK, no sick jokes here! When we enter the room, they jump down and get in their own beds. In the morning, they do the same routine on the rug at the foot of our bed. They seem to really enjoy the ritual, but if you peek at them while they’re doing it, they look sheepish and stop rolling. I’ve always assumed that they were trying to put our human scent on their bodies, but maybe they’re trying to leave their own scent? Or maybe they like to make a pack…er family perfume made from a combination of both human and canine scents. I know several people whose dogs have similar rituals.
This all reminds me of a discussion I had at age 7 with my 11 year old sister. She said something like, “haven’t you noticed how every family has it’s own smell? When you go to other kids’ houses, the inside of each house smells different. And when the family members are away from home, they carry that smell on their bodies”. As our discussion continued, my sister and I pondered what went into making each unique family odor, and why each family’s scent remained consistant over time.
Jill K. says
My dog likes to roll in my scent on the bed. I hope I don’t smell like a dead fox!
Congratulations on your retirement from teaching. If you ever decided to make a MOOC from your class, I would sign right up!
Rebecca Rice says
Got a thoughts on an “air roller”? My Pixie rolls in some things, especially dead animals. But she also sometimes does something I can only describe as air rolling. That’s the entire “slide your shoulder/neck across the stinky thing” move, but done without ever actually making contact. It takes some skill, I assume, since you have to resist gravity while doing it, so I don’t know why she does it. Like the smell, but not want to get too much on you? Doesn’t like the location that the item is in (too hot, bumpy, weedy)? I’ve been trying to get the move on video, but don’t take the camera with me on most of my walks, so haven’t been able to.
Anne Robinson says
My collie, Sailor, was an herbal guy. Inside,he’d rub up against my furniture and the
hanging clothes in my dressing room when I dried my hair (blowing the shampoo scent around), and outside, he’d roll in the rosemary and lavender. He was such a gentleman!
Unfortunately we share our property with a Fox family and a year old Aussie mix who loves burying herself in my bed. But I’ve found mixing a good shot of olive oil in her shampoo keeps the stink from settling in as much as well as keeping her beautiful! Thanks for the laughs!
My first Aussie, Kyah, with luxurious spayed bitch coat, was my worst roller.
Her most obnoxious roll was a long-dead fish about 90 minutes before an appointment with a new vet. It was November, cold and rainy. After she rolled, I hustled her into a nearby creek (source of the dead fish) and tried to scrub what I could of the fish stink out of her coat using sand. Fortunately I had a crate in the car, so I drove 30 minutes home with all the windows open, spent about half an hour with shampoo to see if I could get the fish smell out with limited success, and then drove half an hour with my wet dog to the vet’s office. “Hi, you don’t know me, but I actually am a pretty good dog mom. My dog doesn’t usually stink like this.”
My favorite, though, was a near miss. Kyah and I were walking along the waterline at the coast when I noticed she was ever so casually angling up toward the high tide line. She had found a dead seal and wanted to roll on that. Fortunately she had a long ritual before rolling. Kyah would stand by the stinky thing, inhale deeply and let that breath out audibly with her feet dancing to say “oooohhhhh, this smell! This is going to be awesome!” She’d inhale and exhale a few times before dropping to roll. That sniffing gave me a few moments to run in slow motion through soft sand while screaming “Noooooooo! Pee on it!” toward her. Fortunately I got to her in time that time!
I found telling her to pee on stinky stuff was more effective than telling her “don’t roll on that!” From what I’ve seen, if they can’t roll on something gross, the next best thing is to pee on it. Given the choice between rolling and facing the wrath of Mom or peeing on it and Mom calming down rapidly, Kyah would usually choose the marking. Now, if she could roll in peace, on her own timeline with yelling coming at some time after the rolling had been thoroughly enjoyed, I’m sure she would’ve chosen that option.
AnneMarie in VA says
Our older dog, Booger (my husband named him, thank you!) love, love, loves to rub his face and shoulders in the drippings that remain along the road after the trash truck has come by. Such a wonderful, eclectic amalgam of disgusting scents is just too, too exquisite to resist, apparently. And he will manage to find it even a couple of days later, when it has dried to the point that we can’t see it. We will be attending to our other dog, Wally, only to turn to check on Booger and find him face-down-butt-up and rubbing himself on a patch of road. And we know. Oh, we know.
Worst stink ever: our husky/German Shepherd mix was let off the lead in the absence of any obvious temptations. Unfortunately, although it was unobvious to us, the opened and draining septic tank on the other side of the hill was perfectly obvious to *him*.
When we managed to retrieve him, he was coated head to toes with stinking black cesspool muck.
Shadow and Spot rarely ever roll in disgusting stuff. Spot loves freshly cut grass and dives into it. It’s actually very sweet to see his joy in that and it makes him smell lovely.
Sometimes when I smell the fur on his neck it is a bit “game-like” and I guess he rolled in deer or wild boar urine /scent marks. But actually, when they find something disgusting (rotting carcass) or smell something very interesting, they mark the place themselves with their urine. Quick pee – claim laying? and one we go to discover other interesting things. I love it since the previous two were “rollers” and I’ll get back to you on the most disgusting anecdote – can’t decide which one to tell just now 😉
I once had a dog who loved to roll in cow and carabao dung and sometimes garbage piles. He would often come home trotting in with high steps looking smug and happy about it! And once my mother smelled and saw my dog, she would become hysterical especially when the dog steps inside the house rubs himself on the tiled floor. She would then yell for me to immediately bathe the dog! My dog once did something like this when my mom had several of her high school friends over. Stinky situation yet sometimes a bit funny…..
My springer loves rolling in poo – sometimes in human-scentless poo like rabbit droppings, bird droppings, but also really good stinky like fox and cow. She will go way out of her way to go and find poo to roll in. She also rolls in dead things, and she specialises in doing all this on Wednesdays when we regularly have visitors coming… I don’t think she knows they’re coming, though, it’s not that she’s trying to tell them what a lucky dog she is!
She also has a special muddy puddle roll when she gets hot and there are no stagnant ponds or smelly streams to jump into. It’s a kind of side to side wallow with her legs splayed, to get as much cool mud over her as possible. So the thickest coating of mud is on her belly and legs, smeared up as far as she can get it, rather than the poo roll where it is mostly around the shoulders and on the collar (which of course you have to touch to put the lead on to go home… ick.)
My other dog isn’t allowed off the lead, so misses out on the poo rolling thing. He rolls a lot on the carpet, and on long grass if he gets the chance, but that looks more like a wriggly horse roll than a dog trying to smear itself in poo. So maybe he just gets itchy.
Interestingly we have chickens in the garden, but they have never shown any interest in rolling in their poo.
… which maybe would fit better with the rolling to put her scent over the poo and tell other dogs she’s been there, or with wanting to tell other dogs what an interesting thing she found. If she wanted to tell everyone that we have chickens and it’s a good resource, or just likes the smell, she ought to roll in the garden too.
Good rundown on the theories of why dogs enjoy eau d’deadthing or eau d’poo so much.
I must agree with the poster above – rotting dead snake is the absolutely worst thing a dog can roll in as far as I am concerend. I have a rehomed black German Shepherd who discovered one a year or so ago. It took a while for that stench to be eradicated. I too, was worried about toxin as it was a Tiger Snake, top 5 or so deadliest in the world but a scientist informed me that the poison had to be injected into the blood stream and that swallowing any would have no ill effect.
Diluted apple cider vinegar sponged over the body seems to help a bit with neutralising stench. This shepherd will roll in ANY dead thing, given a chance. She will roll in wallaby poo. She will roll in what looks like nothing but must be a spot where ‘something’ once was.
But, most interesting to me is my other GSD, a couple of years younger but whom I’ve had since a puppy. SHE only pretends to roll. She will go up to a dead thing, whether a baby bird or a wallaby, have a sniff then turn her head sideways and ‘swipe’ across the dead thing a few inches above it. Once I watched her lower her shoulder a few inches above a dead wallaby and move like she was rubbing it! She is such a ‘princess’.
I must say the most inconvenient episode was a few years ago with my then GSD, Caesar. I was hosting a lady from overseas who was introducing Rally Obedience to our dog club in Tasmania. We had a great storm on a Saturday evening and the power went out. On Sunday, when arriving back home after the workshop, the power was still out and I noted some trees had blown down so I walked around the property to see how many. Casear came with me then disappeared in some long grass. His head kept popping up and a silly ‘grin’ before disappeared. He finally finished and came bounding over. He had found a putrid dead wallaby. The problem was, with no power, I have no running water! It was two days before I could bathe him!
My guest was very good-natured about it – fortunately, she was dog person. I still found it rather embarrassing though.
Vicki in MIchigan says
Wow. I have clearly never had a “stink artist” in the family. And I am ok with that!
We’ve had two rollers. One was a 50-pound curly-coated “shepherd/husky”. She’s the one who specialized in either inopportune moments or “Wow, we just got here, and now I smell so bad they have to wash me before they even unlock the cabin!” events………
My other roller was a corgi, who, alas (from his perspective!), had fewer interesting opportunities. Mostly I never figured out what he rolled in, in our suburban back yard. Dead worms? Maybe. Usually he would just come in with a telltale black smear across his upper cheek, by his ear, or the side of his head, in front of his ear. Not anything like as bad as what most people who have commented describe. This could be washed off with soap, and then wasn’t all that stinky.
He was obvious, when he was going to do roll He’d sniff something, and get a certain look on his face, and then aim his head at the ground. I could call him off, but since it was in our back yard (fenced, he was out there without supervision, often), he’d get another chance………
Another of our dogs, who was really pretty smart, managed to have three separate encounters with skunks, right in that same fenced yard. Why, given he was smart, he had three separate encounters, I don’t know. He wasn’t particularly prey driven. Who knows.
In any case — it’s very bad when your freshly-skunked dog comes in and starts rubbing himself on the rugs, furniture, etc……… I learned to have a sniff, before I let him in the house, if it was summertime…..
I want to make a recommendation for Nature’s Miracle’s skunk-smell-removal product. I haven’t needed any for several years, but the last time I bought some, it said “any organic odor” IF you hadn’t used any other preparation first.
It’s meant to be applied to the dog, and it WORKS. The last time Bert got sprayed, I put him in the tub and sluiced him with the Skunk Off (I think that’s the name?). Let it sit 10 minutes, then wash it off. I only sponged his head/face, as I didn’t want to get any in his eyes, ears, mouth. After being treated, his body did not smell of skunk at all, but the top of his head…………… We could still smell it there for most of a year.
I strongly recommend this product — if I had a serious roller, I would totally have some with me at home or when traveling.
I have no relationship of any kind to the product or its producers or sellers. I won’t benefit in any way if you use it. But if it still works like it used to, and your dogs gets into something majorly stinky, you’ll be glad if you have it handy!
Vicki: I too use Nature’s Miracle “skunk odor remover,” and can’t imagine living without it! It works on fox feces, I can attest!
One question to all of us: Can we tell when dogs are “self anointing” versus scratching their backs by rolling on the ground? Last night Willie was thrashing around, upside down on the grass, and I realized I’ve always categorized that behavior as “back scratching” rather than picking up the scent of the grass (or anything else on the ground). But perhaps not… perhaps he was anointing himself yet again? (Although Maggie is the premiere roller in awful things; she can find a strong, stinky scent to roll in faster than you can blurt out an expletive. Thank heavens she is so biddable, and will stop instantly when told. Otherwise I’d have to invest in cases of “skunk odor remover.”)
I am also interested in the dog who “psuedo rolls,” or begins to dip a shoulder but rubs it through the air rather than on the ground. Now that is fascinating. Any guesses as to what’s going on there? I got nothing!
Could the dog who pseudo-rolls possibly be preferring to carry a light scent? Other dogs might still pick up the odor.
My old 75 pound guy became disabled and could no longer get down steps and around on rough terrain so I bought him a lifting harness to help him keep hiking. I brought him up to Door County and we took a nice hike along the shoreline. He could see Lake Michigan and wanted to go swimming so, using his new lifting harness, I helped get him down a 5 food drop to the water. He walked out into it up to his ankles, got a drink and then turned around and found a gigantic pile of deal alewives to throw himself into grinding the fish into every inch of his harness as well as his fur. It was a fun ride home.
What fascinating anecdotes!
With regard to the air rollers, are they signalling? They like the smell and want to communicate it, but don’t want to wear it?
If it’s true that dogs are rolling in stinky stuff because it is a beautiful perfume to them, then why would they try so hard to get skunk off of them? I know if it gets in their eyes, it burns, so that’s understandable. But I’ve had dogs who get skunked on their back ends and will rub themselves all over the rug and walls in what appears to be an attempt to get the smell off of them and they certainly look distressed while doing it. Somewhat like after a bath. Perhaps it has nothing to do with smell per se. Perhaps it is about a sensation? Or even a high they might get off of certain chemical scents? So it wouldn’t be all scents, just some with certain ingredients. That would explain “air rollers”, they get the “high” they need by just being close to it and inhaling. I could even stretch this further and say there is a reason why it seems to happen at the wrong times. Maybe it’s when we’re stressed, so they’re stressed and this has a soothing effect on them. And maybe some dogs get addicted and have to roll more often than others…nah, that’s going too far. 😉
maggie moss says
Hi , I loved the photo of smelly Basenji. My Basenji ‘Air Rolls’ (what a great name ) . She examines the area carefully, does the shoulder dipping actions ,looks like she would love to dive in but keeps about an inch above. Very interesting to read other dogs do this as well.
Why ? well My Basenji says, she wants to drink up all the delicious scents and avoid that bath.!!
Margaret McLaughlin says
The story of Cobie and the $100 carp:
When I got my first dog, a rescue Keeshond I named Cobie I lived next to a park by the river, dam, & millrace. Since I was a novice dog owner & he was a Velcro dog I let him play off-lead, running in the woods & swimming in the millrace–even in those days I was smart enough not to let him swim above OR below the dam. One fine day he ran ahead over the bank & didn’t reappear. When I caught up, he had found himself a dead carp, rolled in it, & snacked on it.
The $100 went in persuading the vet’s groomer to fit him into her already-full schedule for a bath in de-skunking shampoo, a hefty tip to said groomer, & x-rays to make sure he hadn’t ingested a fishhook, since his mouth was bleeding.
Good thing I never found the idiot who didn’t throw his “trash fish” back to be fish food instead of dogfood.
And why do they do it. Truly beats me. But then, I find perfumes, scented candles, air fresheners, etc., disgusting also. If I can’t even understand their appeal for my own species….
Mark H Pelech says
I have three Shiba Inus and at different times they have rolled in various examples of species poop. Living in a condo community we have the pleasure of flocks of Canada geese – and of course those lovely green cigars they leave for all of us. My dogs will roll in the green cigars infrequently but it happens – I really try to watch for the behavioral signs indicating a poop roll is about to happen.
What’s the worse is that often the day they return from a wash and groom, or the day after, any one of the three will roll in dog poop in my mom’s backyard. I am wondering if they just don’t like the smell of the shampoo used and prefer the smell of their own or their litter mates poop. I just wish I could convince them that the shampoo smells just fine.
For whatever reason I’m one of those rare individuals gifted with a dog that rarely rolls. On the few occasions he has, it’s usually been on Thanksgiving Day, when we take him visiting to a very sweet and tidy German friend, and during his walks he chooses Eau-de-cat poop, of a rather moist “vintage.” Ew! Fun fun! 😛
But on the urine covering scent theory, I know hunters of deer are very big on covering themselves in deer urine to hide their odor. I’m betting this is based in some very real experiences, so while it’s true that deer use eyes and ears, perhaps over scent, I don’t think that necessary detracts from the theory. If the rolling behavior is handed down from wild ancestors, I have to believe that for a wild animal whose life is on the line and depends on successful hunting, every little bit helps. Yes you work around the sight and hearing of the prey, but what if you ARE upwind of your target? Maybe you can get everything else right and a little whiff blows your cover. And if prey scent is not THAT great, maybe that IS why it works. Because a deer cannot do a good enough job of scent detection to get the wolf or the dog, under all that pee, poop, carcass, what have you.
Now for a contrary thought. Regarding carcass, is rolling in that even a different purpose? I don’t see how carcass rolling would even be significant to a deer. Does the wolf or dog hope to get the musk on its body? What if there is decay? This would make me think the odor of decay would send the deer AWAY. I would think over time, deer would be conditioned to avoid carcass odor if predators rolled in it. What other use would deer have for rotting bodies? What would be the attraction? The only thing I can remotely think of brings me to thoughts of the Red Deer of Scotland which have been known to eat rotting dead seabirds. But I haven’t seen anything on say, white tailed deer typically feeding on bodies, at least with any regularity.
Hearing of your retirement gives me mixed feelings. I was never one of your students, and while I am happy for your new era in life beginning, I feel for the many young folks who will not get to benefit from your years of study and wisdom in this field. All the best!
Mark – I suspect you are correct that dogs do not like the smell of shampoo. I had a freshly-bathed beagle mix leap into the algae raft at the edge of a pond for no apparent reason other than to replace the scent of shampoo with a “perfume” more to her liking.
Monika & Sam says
Sam, my standard poodle isn’t too bad about rolling in ‘stuff’ (other than our lengthy twice-a-day walks, he’s pretty much an indoor door. But when he’s in the garden with me, does like to lay in the dirtiest pile of mulch and leaves which has to be brushed out before he can come back inside) My OES’s when they were still alive on the other hand, were masters at rolling in the freshest, gooiest most disgusting goose poop they could find. Argh! Oh, and always just right after getting bathed. Sigh. 😉
I too hate air fresheners and strong perfumes, and I’d easily believe that shampoo perfumed to please many dog owners is the reason so many dogs are so eager to roll after a bath.
I’m inspired by the idea of air rolling as signalling or communication. It makes me wonder if there is an aspect of visual communication in actual rolling too. In the same way that scratching the ground after elimination is possibly a visual cue to other animals, maybe the smear or streak or flattened grass left in a pile of rolled-in-thing shows that someone was there. If a source of odor had been previously rolled in would it prevent another dog from rolling? Are odor piles single use only?!
One of my dogs loves to roll on my towel I use after I wash my hair. If he sees me walking with my “turban” on after a shower he will carry on like I’m carrying his favourite dog treat. If I lay down with damp hair he will actually try & roll in my hair when it’s wet too, which as I have very long hair can get very interesting as I detangle my dog from it.
Vicky in Boise says
Oh my, with Zoe where do I start? Her most famous encounter of the ” fragrant” kind was with a dead steelhead. It was not a freshly dead one, but one that still had form but was more liquid than solid. Naturally, I had no clue what had happened until I saw her emerge from the willows preceded by waves of scent that hit my nose far before she reached me. And was she ever pleased with herself!! We walked home in a cloud of eau de deceased rotten fish that I was sure people going by in their cars with the windows rolled up could smell. It took several baths to get rid of most of it, but for several weeks when Zoe walked by, the slight hint of that steelhead lingered in the air.
Debby Gray says
I’m coming way late to this discussion probably too late. My dog always sniffs the ground thoroughly and then flops over and rubs her entire back in the substance. The trouble is I think she sniffs the same way before peeing or pooping in an unfamiliar area. So, if we are hiking, I’m never certain whether she is looking for the perfect place to poop or is about to roll in something I’m not able to see. Does anyone know how to sort out different sniffing behaviors? Any clues I should look for to distinguish what is going to happen next?
What I’ve found to be just as interesting is not only what they choose to roll in but also why some roll while others just don’t think they need that “bling”.
Out of our six Leonbergers only two were holy rollers. The other four however have had a greater prey drive than the rollers did and those four would sniff for a very long time and then start searching for more information, while the two rollers seemed to be simply satisfied being anointed.
Somewhat related, I’ll share this one anecdote about our first Leo, Bogey. During a long hike one Spring morning with his best friend, Willie the GSD, Bogey consumed an entire eighteen inch snake, a fairly lethargic squirrel and for dessert a cow pie that was as big as a dinner plate.
We eventually reached our destination, the water fountain at our local reservoir before turning back, but first the dogs were spotted by three coeds from a nearby college sunning on a large rock. They couldn’t resist hugging our dogs who reciprocated their affection with long, noisy, slurping licks. My buddy glanced at me and subtly shook his head back and forth and I received the meaning immediately – “what they don’t know won’t hurt them”…
Gosh, I hope none of you ladies are reading this.
Oh yeah, Vic, they might be reading this! But most of us dog lovers are used to it, right?
I thought about this discussion again last night, as Remus has done something unusual twice in the last week. He’s my rolls-in-dewy-grass pup. Never in anything stinky. Of the two dogs, he’s also the much more expressive emotionally and very visibly bonded to me (I think Sieger is more generally attached to the whole family, especially the kids).
I work out at home just about every night. Twice this week while I was doing my sit ups (beginning of work out, I’m not particularly sweaty or stinky yet), Remus gleefully rushed to join me on the floor. That in itself is pretty usual. I don’t mind the added challenge of doing sit ups and push ups against the resistance of a dog in my way, and neither of the dogs seems able to resist the amusement of “helping” mom when she’s laying on the floor.
On Monday, after circling around and slobbering cheerfully in my face, Remus suddenly dropped his shoulder into my chest and “rolled” vigorously. He repeated this performance last night. It was unmistakably the same move he uses in the grass, and the same one Sieger uses when he’s found something disgusting. I’m not sure what to think about it, other than that it seems to support the idea that dogs like to wear scents they enjoy. I’m glad Remus prefers my scent to the scent of dead-whatever.
Alex Johnson says
Best Roll was a bar of soap
Worst roll was a dead bloated hedgehog – it popped
I just found you whilst googling ‘why does my dog roll in…’ and I have to say, I love your site and your line of thinking. We live in a city where, sadly, there is a big problem with homelessness and drugs. Our pooch loves to roll in bird poop and (unfortunately) human poop. We know its human because its usually behind a bush and there are tissues there. I’ve been told by other dog walkers that the toxins in drug user poop can be very dangerous and a few dogs in our area have died as a result of eating it. I can’t verify if this is true 100%, but the whole ‘human waste’ and potential danger brings a whole new level of ‘ICK’ into the rolling equation. Give me fox poop any day.
Thank goodness someone else has had to deal with dolphin. Our lab found it well before us. It was so far gone it took a while to realise what it was. She had once rolled in a piece of a grey seal, probably bitten off by a shark. Both times the weather was cold and stormy, so the washings were still soaking into the car some time later. We thought we had got good at baths. I think that goes with labradors. But this evening I found something crusty in her fur and now we have to change the air in the house again. Thankfully Miriam seems to avoid dead jellyfish.
I honestly didn’t think ‘my dog rolled in a dolphin’ would be a fruitful Google.
Very glad I found this information. I’ve only recently noticed my dog rolling in nasty smelling things–today it was a dead black bird. I’ve seen him rolling in something or other for awhile, but there was never an odor, pleasant or unpleasant, attached. Then, about a month ago, he rolled in feces. As mentioned, today it was a dead bird. My first impulse was to reprimand him, but I quickly nixed that approach for fear of confusing him in his relationship to the world. Instead, I bathed him. There wasn’t a discernible smell, but one just knows that “dead” isn’t good. I then started doing research; actually, I even thought that, perhaps, he might be doing this because of some kind of medical condition. Anyhow, I’m glad I found this post as I now understand that this is common and it’s really just part of my dog’s make up. Thank you, again.
Andrea Malone says
My dog ben has always rolled in other animals poo since we got him. He normally only does it kn very warm days and he always puts in on his hips. I have always thought it was to attack the flys away from his eyes and nose.
But at the end of our walk he always rolls in long grass and try to wash it of. So it must be to do with fyls or something like it.
Two words….yak poop. Yes, my then 4 month old lab/border collie/Australian shepherd found yak poop and rolled forever before we found her or the pile. She bounded off for the taller grass as we were all heading for the car to leave my mother-in-law’s house. It was a fragrant ride home in late winter…windows down and a puppy that was happier than a pig in poop.
dog lover says
our akbash dog loves rolling in cat manure, she is a sheep dog and we think she does it to mask her own sent.
Charles & Holly Roy says
Great article. My dog rolls on dead Frogs, Puppy poop, Small dead turtles and has done this since he was a year old. We live in the country. He is a fussy eater. He is not abused and he is overly loved. Can he be doing this to keep others away from him? Theo is a Pom Mutt. We love him Dearly. He has finally got a new playmate, a Papillon named Trooper Bean, whose facial shape resembles Theos.
Trooper is aggressive toward Theo, playfully, but we can see Theo would like him to slack off a bit. (maybe a year or so) Anyway the introduction of a ne companion did not change Theo’s habits at all.
If only I could relate to Theo and explain why he is taking his third bath today! LOL
Barbara Fehlau says
The most disgusting thing our Brodie rolled in was rotting seal on the west coast of Vancouver Island – half of hi was totally slimy with the stuff complete with lots of maggots and he came running up to us wagging his tail furiously with so much pride and joy just before we were going to go home in our camper van – so I dragged Brodie into the ocean where all the slimy maggotty rotting seal congealed ….. I couldn’t find any soap just then so we spent a three hour drive smelling eau-de-rotting-seal until we got home to give Brodie a proper bath – YUCK!!
Thank you for this! All the other websites I found explained it as scent-masking for hunting, which also just didn’t make sense to me.
I like Kat’s explanation of “this is interesting, yes I like it, I will take it with me”, like a little boy finding a colourful stone.
Worst rolling ever: My two spaniels, who are usually quite obedient when called, one day ran away from me as soon as we got to our usual park. I had no idea where they’d gone and became mildly panicked, until they came running back a few minutes later looking like they’d found buried treasure. And smelling of what I’d imagine perfumeries in hell would stock.
Turns out, a fish shop or supplier had dumped an entire truck load of rotten prawns in the park. The dogs had smelled it from miles away!
Also, side note: I have NEVER come across a website where not only the posts are well written, but also the comments! What a pleasure.
I cannot possibly tell you the joy that this post and, most importantly, its replies just brought me. I have a terrier mix who I rescued from the streets; before him, I’d never had a roller. I now am intimately acquainted with the phenomenon! Just now he found a dead chipmunk and did the roll, drop, wiggle that we are all so familiar with. He’s done it on strange carcasses on Cape Cod, in mysterious poop in our back yard, random smears of something on the sidewalk, and of course in his own poop too. But I can’t even be frustrated with him for it–he is so *happy* when it happens, and smiling as many of you have mentioned. He was so skittish when we rescued him, and somehow that happy roll just proves he’s always becoming more and more himself. Magically, today’s chipmunk was not so long-dead as to be coming apart at the seams, but I’m going to have to go take it out of the equation because I cannot have entrails in my life. I. Cannot. Have. Entrails. In. My. Life.
Thank you all for the laughs and good advice.
Donald E. Christian says
We have a pond nearby where geese live during the summer and you’d be surprised how horrendous goose skat smells. It’s like chicken skat which isn’t must better than skunk spray. They love it!
Thank you for the great article, Patricia. It is an interesting topic.
As for me, I found something interesting.
My dog is a 11 y.o. mixed breed, male, intact. He is not a fan of rolling in disgusting things, but very very rarely he rolls in small dead animals ( maybe once a year). Sometimes I notice him sniffing grass and then rolling as if it is something smelly, BUT there is nothing! I think I have found an answer: he is rolling in female dog’s pee! I was walking with a friend and her 6 y.o. spayed female shepherd mix and my dog rolled in her pee and then marked over. Why does my dog want to smell like a female? What is your opinion? Thanks 🙂
Brittany Akins says
I have 5 dogs from 2.5lbs to 65lbs not only do they roll in poop and vomit they enjoy rotten eggs, dead animals and anything that looksays like it might smell….they enjoy doing this as a group, and sometimes also eat said stinking items…….then they run inside, and jump in the bed…..try cleaning the bed and house while chasing 5 dogs that don’t particularly enjoy the bathtub….and yet I love them all
Brittany Akins says
Oh and I forgot…I use to have a dog who enjoyed swimming in the neighbors septic pond……
Janet Miller says
I have a 7 month old Great Dane. He is very ….. different…. from any other Great Dane that I have owned in the past. I love him to pieces, but he is a project. He will roll on or in anything dead. Dead grass. Dead animals. If he is rolling on green grass, there is something dead there. I look closer, and find a dead frog. And so on.
Thank you for writing your article; I was really beginning to wonder about why he would only ever roll around in dead things.
Beautiful, tasty looking apple roses! I must try them after I am finished with my college courses!
Wonder of wonders just today my little girl (Jack Russell) Jackie found a dead decaying little bird with blood on it and decided to roll in it. I carried her and her bloody face straight to the bathtub. What an awful choice! It always seems to be the stinkiest things not to mention the grossest!!
Barrilete Cosmico says
While I also agree that the main reason dogs roll in stinky stuff is because they like it I wouldn’t discard the camouflage option altogether. As we (humans) tend to anthropomorphize dogs, that is attributing human characteristics to dogs, dogs may well “canidmorphize” humans and the other animal species, thinking they possess their same skills and (smelling) capabilities. Just because we have studied and know how other species live, hunt, see and perceive the world around them, doesn’t mean canines know that too.
Barrilete, always good to be reminded that dogs live in their own universe! But I dismiss the camo option exactly because dogs aren’t humans, and wouldn’t be fooled by a layer of fox poop onto the scents of a dog. And canid prey mostly respond to visual signals, not scent. But always good to stay open minded!