But why on earth do dogs take a malicious pleasure in rolling around in the droppings and in everything that smells bad? We have some speculation about that…
You’re walking your dog. The weather is nice, the sun is shining and your doggie is frolicking happily when all of a sudden he freezes with his nose at ground level. In no time at all, he rubs his chops on the ground followed by his neck and then ends up rolling enthusiastically on his back. Immediately, you understand that it is too late! Your dog has found a nice, fragrant turd and is rolling happily in it, to the point of spreading it all over his coat. Every dog owner knows that the same scenario can happen again with a decomposing carcass or anything else that is very nauseating! Why do dogs, whose sense of smell is known to be much more sensitive than ours, do this? Well, we don’t know for sure because the world of smells is a world that escapes us, because we can’t perceive and interpret them in the same way as our dog friends. On this subject, we have, for the moment, only the following hypotheses to explain this behavior…
So a dog would roll in the feces…
…to mask his own scent?
Rolling in the droppings, or more generally in anything that smells bad, would be – for some – the expression of an ancestral instinct of the dog, inherited from the time when they were still wild predators.
Some authors suggest that this behaviour was then used by dogs to hide their scent from the prey they were stalking in order to make them undetectable “olfactory” speaking. However, studies conducted on wolves do not fully support this hypothesis because these animals do not exclusively roll in the excrement of the herbivores they hunt.
Others believe that canids might have adopted this behaviour for a completely different purpose. In the days of wild dogs and wolves, the strong smells in which they rolled around might well have helped them camouflage the young of the litter from other predators. This hypothesis was supported by research published in September 2016 by Max Allen, a researcher at the University of Wisconsin at Madison. The ecologist observed gray foxes rubbing their cheeks on soil freshly marked with puma urine. According to Allen, grey foxes use the scent left behind by these large predators as a form of olfactory camouflage, hiding them from other large predators such as coyotes. But again, this does not explain why large predators like wolves sometimes roll in the feces of other large predators!
…to deposit her scent?
By rolling around in strong smelling substances, some authors believe that canids are simply depositing their own scent there.
Stephen Harris of the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, who has studied the red fox, said in an article in BBC Earth :
“Foxes have glands in the region of the lips, the circumoral glands… We do not know the precise function of these scent glands, but foxes are observed rubbing the sides of their mouth and neck on all sorts of objects. They often seem to do this in response to strong smells. Unusual smells seem to stimulate them.”
But when a dog rolls over, he too often starts by rubbing his chops and neck…before rolling over in the foul-smelling substance. Is this a way of depositing his scent? It is in any case one of the hypotheses to be considered.
…to communicate and belong to a group?
Some authors believe that this behaviour is a way of conveying information about where they have been (and rolled) in the rest of their pack, while others believe that it is more about increasing the sense of unity within a group of canids by sharing a common scent. This is because, in a group of canids, when one animal starts to roll around in a foul odour, the other members of the group tend to do the same.
And why shouldn’t dogs roll around in poop just for fun? The enthusiasm they put into it makes you seriously wonder! After all, the line between what smells good and what smells bad is very variable from one individual to another within the same species, so imagine how different the perception could be from one species to another! Dogs may simply find the poop “smells good” and enjoy rolling in it.
Muriel Brasseur of the Oxford Animal Behaviour Center gives credence to the latter hypothesis by stating in the columns of BBC Earth :
“I suspect they’re receiving a large amount of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in reward and pleasure. If it’s a behavior from their evolutionary past that was related to their survival, it could be enhanced by being extremely fun.”