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Pretty In Stink: Why Dogs Roll In Stinky Things

Nobody knows for certain why dogs roll in stinky (and dead and pooey) things. But many dog lovers know that dogs who roll in yucky stuff seem to enjoy it. Really enjoy it.

There are four main theories about why dogs roll in smelly things. None can be scientifically proven as the true cause of this behavior, but each theory has scientific merit. And each illustrates a different focus on how people think the behavior developed as dogs evolved from wolves.

  • Dogs get a lot of information from things they smell. Rolling in stinky stuff might be a way for a dog to take notes, and bring news (smells) back to the pack, such as the location of potential food or types of prey.
  • Subordinate dogs temporarily gain status in the pack when the other dogs stop what they’re doing to give a subordinate dog attention, in this case by sniffing her smelly sweater. Dogs in human families are subordinates and when they roll in stinkiness, we give them the lots of extra attention for a while.
  • Dogs might be trying to mask their scent with something completely non-threatening, like a dead fish or a cow pie. As one of my pals puts it, the smelly dog sneaks up on unsuspecting prey, and might imagine a deer thinking, “What’s that smell? Oh, it’s just a rotten pile of poo getting closer and closer to me. Nothing to worry about.”
  • The healthy skin and coat of dogs include populations of beneficial bacteria and microbes that contribute to the skin and coat’s ability to protect the dog from parasites and germs. Dogs may instinctively need to get more of these skin and coat bacteria by rolling in things that have useful bacteria.

Daisy loves to roll, but (luckily) not in stinky things

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