If you have a dog, chances are, you’ve seen her drop and roll on the ground at some point in her life. It could’ve been on a walk, hike, or in the backyard, and the spot in question may have contained something repulsive, or (what appears to be) nothing at all. But whether your dog has rolled in a dead rodent or a seemingly normal pile of leaves, you’ve probably wondered: why did she just do that?
Chances are, this quirky – and sometimes disgusting – habit is a link back to their ancestors. There are several theories as to why our pups have the urge to roll in weird things. Below, find 5 possible reasons why pups love covering themselves in smelly stuff!
1. They’re trying to mask their own scent.
One theory, described in Psychology Today by dog expert Stanley Coren, is that they’re trying to disguise their scent in order to “hide” it from prey. Perhaps they roll in the feces or carcasses of other animals so when their prey gets a whiff from the wind, all they smell is other non-threatening species.
Animal Behaviorist Patricia McConnell presents a couple arguments against this idea. She points out that many prey animals depend most on their senses of sight and sound, and would likely scamper when seeing or hearing a canine before smelling it. She also says that even if the hunted were primarily dependent on their noses, it’s thought they’d be sensitive enough to detect the scent of a predator underneath all that stink.
2. They want to mark the thing they found.
It could also be that dogs are trying to mark the “exciting” new thing they found. Again, McConnell presents an opposing point. She rationalizes that dogs usually urinate to mark, so why wouldn’t they use this easier, more effective method over rolling around on their new discovery?
3. Their instincts tell them to bring the scent back to the rest of the pack.
Another possibility is that our dogs’ ancestors would roll in a perceived resource to bring the scent back to the pack, and this urge is still present in our domesticated pals.
Dr. Sophia Yin describes findings from Pat Goodmann, a research associate and curator of Wolf Park in Indiana. According to Goodmann, wolves are known to practice “scent rolling.” He explains:
“When a wolf encounters a novel odor, it first sniffs and then rolls in it, getting the scent on its body, especially around the face and neck. Upon its return, the pack greets it and during the greeting investigates the scent thoroughly. At Wolf Park, we’ve observed several instances where one or more pack members has then followed the scent directly back to its origin.”
4. It’s a way to show off to their friends.
Since dogs are not repulsed by pungent or weird odors – rather, they seem attracted them – McConnell explains that our pups may be rollin’ in the “good stuff” in order to brag to their friends about the exciting new thing they just found. She also suggests that the sniffers may associate the enviable odor with that dog’s territory, making them wish they lived there, too!
It’s almost impossible to work against natural instinct, but if you want to stop your pooch from smearing his findings all over his fur, the best thing you can do is keep him on a leash or practice the command “come” and rewarding him with an even better treat!