It’s certainly not their most loveable behaviour, but some dogs just can’t resist rolling in poop! This is a surprisingly common and very natural canine habit, but one that many dog owners remain puzzled by.
Dogs rarely choose to roll in their own poop, but often favour things like fox poop, cowpats and anything else particularly smelly. This behaviour, known as ‘scent-rolling’, is thought to be a genetic hangover from the wild ancestors of our domestic dogs.
It might seem strange that an animal with such a strong sense of smell would want to roll in something so pongy, but many dogs seem to love doing just that! While we already know a lot about the way our dogs’ brains work, the reason they love to roll in poop is still a little unclear, but can be narrowed down to a few different theories…
Why does my dog roll in poop?
One theory is that rolling in poop is an evolutionary throwback and is used by dogs as a means of camouflaging their own scent.
Grey foxes, a relative of our domestic dogs, have been observed rubbing their face, cheeks and neck in the poop and urine of larger predators like pumas. It’s thought that this form of camouflage isn’t intended to hide their scent from their prey, but rather help them avoid detection by larger, more dominant predators.
It’s also thought that rolling in poop might be a way for dogs to communicate with each other. Alongside dogs’ primary forms of communication, body language and barking, scent plays a major role for our canine friends.
Rolling in poop, or any other strong scent, can help dogs communicate to others about the environment around them. Wolves have been observed rolling in food and poop and then bringing these scents back to their pack, who will then follow the smell back to where it came from.
While this is one of the less likely explanations, it’s something that could possibly explain why some dogs roll in poop. Pack animals like dogs often mark their territory by urinating on things. Rolling in poop may be an alternative way for dogs to try and mask the strong scent of another animal with their own. That might seem counterintuitive to us, especially when your dog gets covered in smelly poop – but then again, our dogs do have plenty of rather mystifying habits!
It’s also possible that unusual or new scents are attractive to dogs. Wolves have been found to favour rolling in novel scents such as motor oil and perfume over the droppings of other carnivores. So if your dog doesn’t encounter poop very often, the unusual and strong scent may simply be irresistible and intriguing to them.
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Can you stop your dog rolling in poop?
The short answer is: not really! Rolling in poop, or other unpleasant yet strong-smelling items such as dead animals, is a very natural behaviour for our dogs.
If your dog is a frequent poop roller, you can try to limit their opportunities. If there’s a regular spot on your walk where your dog finds and rolls in poop, consider putting your dog on their lead before this point. If your garden is often visited by foxes, do a quick check for fox droppings before you let your dog out.
Many dogs seem to love rolling in poop so that it concentrates around their neck, which unfortunately means their collar becomes covered as well. You might notice your dog starting the classic ‘neck roll’ stance and getting ready to drop themselves neck-first into a deliciously smelly pile of poop. Some dogs may stop at this point if you call them over to you quickly, so it’s always a good idea to keep their recall training fresh. But if all else fails, it’s time for a good bath!
Cleaning your dog after they’ve rolled in poop
Dealing with the stinky aftermath of when your dog rolls in poop is one of the less fun aspects of dog ownership. Using an odour-eliminating shampoo containing a deodorising ingredient, like sweet orange oil, gives you the best chance of removing all those unpleasant smells.