No matter how beautiful and loving dogs are, they have a long list of unusual and disgusting habits which are often stomach-turning.
From eating their own poop to tracking down and rolling in dead and decaying animals while on a walk, there are lots of behaviors that dogs have which are frankly quite vile. So exactly why does your dog insist on rolling in dead animals?
Dogs are attracted to the intense scent of dead animals. Dogs don’t find the smell of a decaying corpse disgusting; rather they are attracted to it. They often resort to the ancestral behavior of “scent rolling”, which is the act of rolling in the terribly pungent odor of animal remains in order to mask their own smell just as wolves do when on a hunt.
There is no definitive reason why dogs roll in dead animals and other disgusting matter, but there are a number of plausible ones. Let’s take a look at them.
Why are Dogs Attracted to Dead Animals?
Smell is your dog’s most dominant sense, and it is far superior to that of a human. They rely on smell in much the same way as humans rely on their vision. A scent can tell them a whole story — such as who or what has recently visited an area
So instead of being disgusted by the smell of a dead animal, our dogs are interested. And a decomposing animal corpse is about as intense a set of smells as you’re going to encounter.
Why Do Dogs Roll in Dead Animals and Other Stinky Stuff?
We do not know for certain why dogs choose to roll in dead animal, and other stinky stuff. But, there are several theories as to the reason for this behavior; let’s take a look at them in more detail.
Some dog psychologists believe our dogs roll in dead animals simply for fun. Just as a child might enjoy stomping around in a mud puddle or making an angel in the snow, a dog may find the act of rolling around in a perfumed (as they perceive it) dead body.
If you can imagine that the scent of the dead animal is actually a good one to your dog, it’s easier to understand why they may just enjoy the musky bath.
To Gather Information
It is also thought that dogs might roll in dead animals to gather information for their pack. This is an innate action in wolves, and it also occurs in dogs.
So, when your dog smells a dead animal, they may decide to roll in it, so that they can collect the scent of that animal. When they return to “the pack”, the other pack members can then smell this, and learn more animals that could be in their territory, etc.
In this scenario, think of your dog rolling in a dead animal as “taking notes” to bring home to share with the family.
To Cover their Scent
Alternatively, your dog might roll in a dead animal to mask their own scent. This is likely another behavior that has been inherited from their wolf ancestors. When a dog rolls in a dead animal, their natural scent is masked by the scent of that dead animal. Experts call this “scent rolling.”
This camouflaging of their own scent allows your dog to go unnoticed, and makes them more stealthy, ready for when they have to hunt. Of course, domestic dogs do not hunt, but covering their scent is still an innate behavior of theirs.
Dogs have many behaviors like this hardwired into them, such as circling its resting area before lying down. We’ll never know the root reason of these for sure, but it is possible to make reasonable speculation.
Some dog psychologists argue that dogs roll in dead animals to mark the creature as their own. Dogs produce a natural scent, so when your dog rubs their body or head against the dead creature, they are transferring their own scent onto it.
There isn’t much science behind this theory because we don’t actually know that much about pheromones in dogs, but this theory does make some sense and could be the reason our dogs exhibit this behavior.
Dogs certainly mark territory constantly, both through their urine and through their anal glands. Rolling in dead animals could simply be another form of this type of marking.
As a Cry for Attention
It has been argued that your dog could also exhibit this behavior if they are trying to tell you that something is wrong.
As dog owners, we are taught that any out-of-character behavior could be a sign that something is wrong with your dog. So, your dog might decide to roll in a dead animal if they are suffering from a hidden illness, or if they are experiencing stress/anxiety.
While there is some logic to this theory, it’s impossible to make a correlation between the activity and any possible illness or stress.
They Love the Smell
But, ultimately, your dog could just be rolling in a dead animal because they enjoy the smell of it. Dogs have a very different sense of smell to humans, and their sense of smell is a lot more intricate.
So, while we are disgusted by the smell of rotting animals, our dogs might just love the smell, and that is why they behave in this way. You may smell rotting flesh, but your dog may smell the equivalent of Chanel No. 5.
Is It Dangerous?
Even though it isn’t good behavior, it isn’t necessarily dangerous for your dog to roll over a dead animal.
There is an element of risk because you do not know how that creature died (i.e., it could have been poisoned or had rabies or another disease), but most of the time there is no need to worry.
How Do I Stop My Dog from Rolling in Dead Animals?
No dog owner enjoys their pet rolling in dead animals, and there are lots of ways for you to stop this behavior. Let’s take a look at some of them.
Make a Loud Noise
If you are looking for a method that will get immediate results, it is best to make a loud noise as soon as your dog goes near the dead animal. The loud noise will startle your dog, drawing their attention back to you, and away from the dead animal. But, this method will only work if you act quickly and remain vigilant at all times.
Another way to combat this behavior is to use your dog’s name. It is always good to train your dog to come back to you when you call their name. This is because there is an endless list of situations where this command could come in handy.
One of these situations could be when your animal is about to roll in a dead creature. Simply call their name, and if they know this command well, your dog should return straight to your side, having completely forgotten about the dead creature.
Of course, this is easier said than done if your dog isn’t well trained. A dead animal can be extremely enticing to your dog and a very strong distraction when calling them.
Similarly to using name recognition, you could also use recall to train your dog to avoid dead animals. Some people choose not to use their dog’s name as the recall command, instead they might use “here!” or “heel”.
No matter what command you have used to train your dog to return to your side, this command should prove effective when used to prevent your dog from rolling in stinky stuff.
Teach Your Dog to “Leave It”
Likewise, you could also train your dog a command specifically to stop this behavior. One of the most common commands used for this is “leave it!”.
To train this, you will need to be vigilant, because you will have to say this command as soon as your dog spots the dead animal. When they listen to you, reward them with a treat, and repeat until they have learned the command, and will do it without requiring a treat at the end.
Again, training this behavior will require plenty of repetitions with high value distractions for proofing. It’s much easier to train a dog to “leave” say a pair of shoes in your living room than a fresh steak they find on the ground at the park. But ultimately, training your dog to perform a reliable “leave it” and recall are perhaps the two most important and valuable behaviors you can teach your dog.
Finally, the best way to avoid this behavior is to simply avoid areas where you know there are dead animals.
If you have walked your dog down a road and spotted roadkill on one walk, it is best to avoid this area for a couple of days until the carcass has been removed. If you cannot avoid the dead creature, then simply put your dog on his leash until you have passed it.
What do you do if your Dog Rolls in a Dead Animal?
The first time your dog rolls in a dead animal can be quite alarming, but as any experienced dog owner will tell you, it isn’t the end of the world. It is likely that your dog will do this at least a couple of times in their lifetime. So, here is what to do when it happens.
Once you have got your dog home, the first thing that you need to do is brush their fur. Slicker brushes are great for this, because they are designed for getting knots out of your dog fur.
It is best to brush your dog all over their body, but pay particular attention to the offending areas where they rolled. You should be able to get a lot of the residue out of their fur simply by brushing it.
After you have brushed out as much of the dirt and debris as possible, you should bathe your dog. Use a deodorizing shampoo on their fur, ensuring that the affected area is completely saturated. Let the shampoo stay on the dog for several minutes to help eliminate the smell. Rinse and repeat if necessary.
In short, there are lots of reasons why dogs may roll in dead animals. It could be to transfer their scent onto the dead animal, or to get the smell of the dead animal onto their fur. We can never really be certain of the exact reason, but we know that it is a very established behavior among dogs.
Fortunately, as disgusting as it is to us, it generally doesn’t pose any risk to your dog, other than possible parasite transfer or an unusual case of a diseased animal exposing contagious symptoms. Try to prevent it from happening in the first place, but if it does, just hold your nose and bathe your dog.