Why Do Dogs Roll In Poop? (And Should You Stop Them?)

January 13th, 2020

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A dog rolling around in some muddy grass (or poop?), and having an absolute blast.

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I still remember the first time Yuna decided to roll around in poop.

We were at Alki Beach in Seattle, and there was a fresh wad of bird droppings on the sidewalk. Yuna zeroed in on it with her snoot, and danced around it in a circle.

Once she found the proper angle, she dove into it head first.

I was appalled and upset. It hadn’t been long since her last bath after all!

Throughout her life, Yuna has attempted this on multiple foul-smelling things–bird poop, geese poop, mud (at least I hope it was just mud)…

And that got me thinking, why do dogs roll in poop?

In this article, we’ll cover some of the main reasons why your dog loves to roll in poop. Let’s begin by moving up their family tree.

A Look At Our Dog’s Ancestors - Wolves & Scent Rolling

Believe it or not, your cute little fur kid can be traced back to the great wild wolf.

We know that wolves exhibited a quirky behavior known as “scent rolling.”

Well, it’s only quirky until you understand that for wolves, the sense of smell plays a crucial role in how they communicate. After all, their noses are at least 100 times sharper than ours.

So picture this–a wolf finds a fresh venison carcass out in the wild. How will he inform his pack that dinner is served?

Provided there were no predators nearby, one theory was that wolves simply rolled around in the carcass, marinating their fur with the pungent bounty. Upon returning to the pack, this would signal to the others that food was nearby.

This is just one of a couple theories scientists have given to explain scent rolling in wild wolves. To give a more complete list:

  • Like we just mentioned, a wolf may do this to convey information to their pack about nearby things of interest.
  • Wolves may do this for “scent camouflaging,” in order to be able to inch closer to prey, or escape from a predator.
  • Packs of wolves may roll in the same scent to associate themselves it, forming a common identity.

So Why Do Dogs Today Roll In Poop?

Our domesticated dogs no longer need to stealthily hunt down their next meal, so why do we still see this behavior? Here are three of the most plausible explanations:

  • Like wolves, to communicate with their “pack” (i.e. you!)
  • Your dog wants to change their scent
  • Your dog is curious, and/or they just love doing it!

Let’s take a closer look at each one.

1. To Communicate With Their Pack (Behavioral Tendencies from Ancestors)

Old habits die hard. That is especially true when wolves and dogs belong to the same species and share 99% of their DNA.

So even a housedog will exhibit many of the same primal behaviors left off by ancestors. Scent rolling is just one of them–another common one is territorial marking, for instance.

However, if this is true and your dog really is rolling in some unsavory treasure, who are they trying to communicate that to?

Well, some contend that you are part of your dog’s pack, or the leader of that pack. Perhaps they’re trying to tell you all about their findings?

Of course, you probably don’t care for that disgusting smidge of poop on your dog’s head… but what better do they know?

2. Your Dog Simply Wants To Change Their Scent

One interesting thing we noticed was that dogs seemingly go for his behavior more often right after a bath, much to the chagrin of their owners.

That oatmeal-scented shampoo you so carefully lathered over their coat? Though you may be a fan of the scent, your dog probably doesn’t care much for it.

In fact, it’s possible they dislike baths because they hate the smell of their shampoo.

When your dog chooses to roll in poop, they may just want to regain their “natural” scent, or blend in with their environment more. This alludes to scent camouflaging which we touched on earlier.

3. Your Dog Is Curious, and/or They Just Love It

In case you haven’t noticed by now, dogs are enamored by things we find repulsive. They’ll happily dig their nose into a pile of manure, and spent an unfathomable amount of time sniffing a pee puddle.

Remember that while all poop may stink the same to us, no two turds are the same for our dogs. So it’s no wonder they let their curiosity run free when they make a new discovery.

To add to this, this BBC Earth article suggests dogs simply “get a big rush of dopamine” while rolling in poop, and why wouldn’t this be? If it weren’t so putrid, it certainly does look like innocent fun.

Why do dogs roll in poop? This infographic summarizes the three main reasons, and gives some context on scent rolling as observed in wolves.

Is This Behavior Bad?

Scent rolling has been observed in wolves for many, many generations. Since this is a passed-on behavior to today’s dogs, you shouldn’t feel the need to suppress the behavior. It’s totally natural!

However, maybe you’re getting annoyed that every time you let your dog out in the yard, they manage to sniff out the bird poop and roll in it.

If you’re tired of having to clean your dog off every time this happens, one of the best things you can teach your dog is “Leave it.”

AKC has a general strategy for teaching Leave It. This skill is not only useful for getting your dog to stop rolling in poop, but also to ignore other dangerous items they find on the ground.

Conclusion

To learn why dogs roll in poop, we started off by looking at the same behavior in wolves.

Then, we gave three main motivations for the behavior in dogs today: ancestral instincts, to change their scent, and just good ol’ curiosity and fun.

Dogs will be dogs, and every so often they will decide to roll in poop. This behavior isn’t harmful, but you can try to curb it by solidifying their “Leave It!”

We hope you found this article interesting and entertaining. Yuna would love to hear about all the cool stuff your dogs have been rolling in recently. Leave us a comment with your experiences!

Be sure to follow Yuna on Instagram and Pinterest for more interesting dog tips and facts.

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