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There are no two ways about it: dogs and humans have different ideas about what smells “nice.” Have you ever noticed how your dog behaves when you give him a scented bath? You may think he smells wonderful but your dog probably races around the house trying to get rid of that pretty smell. Some dogs may rub on your furniture trying to get the scent off, or rub their noses with their paws. Most dogs don’t appreciate perfumes, colognes and floral scents no matter how much humans think they improve “eau de dog.” Some dogs carry things even farther. They may try to find scents more to their liking.
Many dogs seem to have a penchant for rolling in things with pungent odors. Poop, animal carcasses, and garbage can all attract a dog seeking to change his personal body odor. The most popular theory about this behavior seems to be that dogs are trying to get rid of a scent that they don’t like (such as a shampoo) and replace it with an earthier scent. It’s important to remember that a dog’s sense of smell is many times more sensitive than our human sense. Not only do we have a different idea about what smells good but your dog smells things much more strongly than we do. That lightly scented shampoo may be strong enough to drive him crazy. So right after a bath your dog may seek out the smelliest thing he can find in your backyard to cancel out the shampoo or cologne fragrance. Unfortunately for you, what he finds may be a dead squirrel.
Another theory to explain why dogs roll in horrible-smelling things is that its instinctive behavior inherited from their wolf ancestors. Wolves will roll in the decomposing bodies of animals and feces to cover up their own scent. This gives them an advantage in sneaking up on their prey since they will smell like…well; they will smell less like wolves. Your dog may be practicing this same hunting behavior when he rolls in horse manure.
According to experts, dogs are less likely to roll in dog feces. Dogs who do roll in dog feces, especially their own, may be trying to get attention or may be showing signs of stress.
Other reasons dogs may roll in the worst-smelling things they can find can be to let other dogs know what “goodies” they have found. This is a pack behavior. The dog needs to tell the other pack members important information, whether it is about animal feces (and the information contained), or about an animal carcass. Or, a dog could even roll around on a dead animal carcass as a way to “mark” it as his own. He’s putting his own scent all over it because he doesn’t want another dog or animal to claim it.
These are all theories but it’s hard to know which one motivates each dog. It’s possible that a carcass simply smells good to your dog. Maybe it’s the equivalent of the human desire to roll in a pile of money or take a bath in a tub of chocolate. Maybe your dog simply can’t help himself. It could be a dream come true for him to roll around in a smelly pile of garbage. Perhaps it excites all of his very acute canine senses.
If your dog is prone to rolling around in things which have disgusting odors it’s not good to punish him. He’s only indulging his dog instincts. The best thing you can do is try to minimize his chances of getting to garbage or carcasses or animal feces, or whatever it is that he likes to roll in. If he particularly does these things after a bath you should try to find an unscented shampoo — something less offensive to your dog. Lay off the colognes and doggy perfumes. Clearly your dog doesn’t enjoy them.
Rolling in the grass is a perfectly natural behavior and most owners don’t object to their dog having a good roll. Try to remember that rolling in smelly things seems just as natural to your dog. Keep him away from the things that smell bad and it should take some of the bad odors out of your life.