What’s better than a walk in the woods with your dog? It awakens all your senses. The gentle wind blows against your back. The brilliant blue sky is breathtaking to behold. You hear the steady sniffing sound of your pup’s nose as she investigates everything around her. It is all wonderful…that is, until she stops, drops and rolls. All of sudden, your sense of smell takes over, and it’s not a pleasant whiff. “Oh no, Lucy! Don’t roll in that! It stinks!”

It is a truth universally acknowledged by dog owners everywhere: dogs love smelly stuff. Discarded food, swampy water, mud, feces or dead animals – we can’t stand the smell or sight of it, but many dogs seek it out. Some dogs like to sniff it, roll in it, paw at it and sometimes pick it up and eat it. It’s one of the less pleasant parts of being a dog parent.

Why do dogs display this behavior? We’ve done a little digging ourselves to come up with some theories. We’ve also pulled together some tips on how to manage this behavior, potential dangers to look out for, and how best to clean up after a particular malodorous episode.

Why Dogs Love It

Biz with a muddy nose

DogWatch dog Biz, getting muddy during her lunchtime walk

There’s no definitive answer to the question of why dogs loves to roll on dead animals and other pungent things. Nevertheless, there are plenty of theories out there.

Some experts believe that this behavior may be carried over from dogs’ wolf ancestors. Dogs may cover themselves in these strong smells to bring this knowledge back to their pack for evaluation. This would then aid the pack as they scavenged for food, acting like a map to the potential sources of carrion.

Another hereditary theory relates to hunting. Dogs may cover themselves in strong smells as a type of scent camouflage. This masks their own odors and makes it easier for them to sneak up on prey in the wild.

Psychology professor Stanley Coren has a different idea. He admits that it is scientifically unproven, but it seems as plausible an explanation as we’ve read:

For human beings, our dominant sense is vision while for dogs it is their sense of smell. Dogs, like people, enjoy sensory stimulation and may well be prone to seeking such stimulation to an excessive degree. Therefore, I believe that the real reason that canines roll in obnoxious smelling organic manner is simply an expression of the same misbegotten sense of aesthetics that causes human beings to wear overly loud and colorful Hawaiian shirts.

So don’t think of it as a disgusting habit, think of it instead as a doggie fashion faux pas!

Safety Concerns

EddieMost of the time, your dog’s penchant for rolling around in stinky stuff is unpleasant but harmless. If you pup starts eating some of these “delicacies,” you may need to intervene. A dog that eats the remains of an animal, especially rodents, can inadvertently digest a deadly toxin − such as rat poison. The dog can also be exposed to parasites and bacteria, including leptospirosis. If your dog does ingest a dead animal, contact your veterinarian for guidance and to discuss health risks.

Another unpleasant dog behavior that could lead to health issues is coprophagia, otherwise known as eating poop. Dogs eating dog poop is most often seen in puppies, who are hungry for nutrients and eager to investigate anything and everything. It often ceases as the pup grows, with a steady diet of healthy food and guidance from his owners. If an adult dog still insists on eating his or another dog’s waste, it may be a sign of an insufficient diet, parasite or other underlying health issue.

Other dogs may exhibit coprophagia by eating the poop of cats, geese, deer or other animals. The vets at VCA Animal Hospitals write that this behavior is “akin to scavenging” and that dogs generally don’t have the same negative reaction to its smell as we do. If you’ve ruled out any underlying health issues, the reason your dog eats poop is probably because he likes it. Don’t despair, though. With training, you can teach him to avoid the poop.

Managing a “Stinky Dog”

Teaching the “leave it” command can be very helpful in managing your dog’s most odor-inducing activities. You may need to bring along your dog’s favorite treat when you begin training, which will act as an appropriate reward for avoiding these strong-smelling items. You can also work on the “leave it” command using a BigLeash Remote Trainer. In this video, professional dog trainer Martin Deeley shows how he uses the BigLeash to teach chocolate Lab Penny to drop a toy after retrieving it.

Cleaning Up

Dog not happy about his skunk bath. Photo by Oakley Originals via Flickr.Even with this training, your dog will still manage to get dirty and smelly on occasion. (He is a dog, after all.) For tips to help make bath time fun or a least bearable for your dog, check out our Bath Time blog post.

If your dog manages to cloak himself in that most unbearable of scents – skunk spray – we urge you check out our blog post on the subject. This popular guide to getting rid of the skunk smell on your dog contains a recipe for a homemade shampoo that really works – just check out the comments section!

And while you’re scrubbing your messy puppy for the third time in one week, just remember, that nose may get her in trouble and cause her to stink up your house, but it is also quite remarkable in many other positive ways. Her amazing nose is 10,000 to 100,000 times as acute as ours. Dogs can use their noses to assist people with managing medical conditions such as diabetes, and they may even be able to sniff out cancer in humans. That’s something worth cheering about!

Photo Credits

Flexi-Corgi” by Jeff Kramer is licensed under CC BY 2.0. (Image was cropped.)

Eddie” by Jana Reifegerste is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

De-Skunked!” by OakleyOriginals is licensed under CC BY 2.0.