Why Do Dogs Roll in Poop?

I love my dog. I do. He’s amazing with my kids, he is a great protector and he has a playful personality that is impossible to resist. Having said that, he also certainly has his shortcomings. Like, for example, the way he greets everyone who enters our home with a nose to the crotch. Or, arguably the worst offense, the way he takes great pleasure in seeking out and rolling in poop.

Gross, I know. He’s disgusting, but what can I say? I love the big, stinky lug.

Naturally, he only does this at the most inopportune moments — when we have company coming over or when we’re in a hurry to head somewhere and don’t have time to give him a bath before we go. It stinks. Literally.

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However, I try to give my big guy the benefit of the doubt. Surely there is some highly scientific reason he does this, right? Well, while they may not all be highly scientific, there are several theories in circulation to explain this bad-smelling behavior.

One such theory suggests that rolling in doo-doo is basically a vestigial practice carried over from the time of dog’s wild ancestors. The gist of this theory is that those wild ancestors always rolled in organic matter: poo, rotting animal carcasses, etc. They were both scavengers and predators, so any organic matter could have been a meal. They would then head back to their pack, the rest of whom would pick up the scent and set off in search of the potential food source.

Another theory is that your dog isn’t trying so much to get the scent on himself as he is trying to get his scent on whatever it is he is rolling in. Although someone should probably clue dogs into the fact that, if this is the plan, they’re failing miserably. The poo is definitely winning that battle.

A third theory is that dogs use the poop as a sort of predatory camouflage. The idea is that if they can cover their own scent in a more pungent scent, it might throw prey off their scent long enough for the dog to get close to them. According to dog behaviorist and author Stanley Coren, this theory probably makes the most “evolutionary and adaptive” sense.

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But Coren offers a theory of his own too. “Dogs, like people, enjoy sensory stimulation and may well be prone to seeking such stimulation to an excessive degree,” he says on Psychology Today. “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 perhaps our pups are just gaudy little guys and girls who tend to be heavy-handed (heavy-pawed?) with the poo-fume.

If you’re wondering if there is a way to curb this particularly odious activity, you might be disappointed. Since poo-rolling could be a byproduct of evolutionary conditioning, it’s unlikely you’ll be able to find a way to circumvent it. The best advice — which I suppose I’ll have to implement as well — is to simply steer clear of any stinky stuff when you’re out walking your dog.

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If your dog has free reign of your yard, well, you might have to take a more proactive approach when it comes to disposing of feces. Not fun, but it could potentially save your sniffer from suffering through some seriously unfortunate dog baths in the near future.


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