- Rolling in poop is normal — In fact, it’s an instinct domestic dogs have retained from their time as wolves.
- There are risks associated — While typically not fatal, rolling in poop can still be risky for your dog.
- And, it can be stopped — Training, redirection, and a little planning can stop your dog from rolling around in poop.
Animal behaviorists have helped us understand a lot about dog body language and behavior — for instance, anxiety can make your dog chew and gnaw on things, and yipping or running in their sleep just means they are dreaming. But, why do dogs roll in poop?
One of the leading ideas is that dogs roll in poop to hide their own smell. Thousands of years ago, your dachshund was more wolf-like, and food wasn’t guaranteed. Wolves must hide their scent in order to survive and successfully hunt. Rolling in poop is simply in your dog’s nature.
Why do dogs roll in poop?
Sometimes it can seem like dogs live to love us – and to do things that annoy us. Rolling around in grass, dirt, and poop seemingly five minutes after they’ve had a bath is one of those things that drives pet parents crazy. But, why do dogs roll in poop? The answers probably won’t surprise you.
A very popular theory about why dogs roll in poop is that it’s to hide their scent. Wolves don’t typically have to camouflage their scent due to predators (wolves are apex predators and thus, the top of most food chains,) but rather, to hide themselves from potential prey. While your dog doesn’t need to hunt to survive anymore, it’s still a deeply ingrained instinct.
A natural instinct
While the more popular opinion is that your dog is trying to hide his scent, another theory is that your dog may be trying to leave his scent. This could be to signal to other animals that the area is your dog’s territory, or simply your dog’s way of saying, “Fido was here.”
Communicating with other dogs
Lastly, rolling in poop may be a way for dogs to communicate to each other that they’ve found something interesting. While we can easily call our family and friends when we find the best pizza place in town, for dogs, rolling in something smelly is a way of carrying the scent and leading the rest of their pack back to follow them back to the intriguing scent.
How to prevent your dog from rolling in poop
While dogs roll in poop for a variety of reasons, for most dog owners, none of those reasons are good enough to encourage the behavior. Here are three ways to discourage dogs from rolling in poop.
There should be no unsupervised time outside! When it comes to outdoor time, whether it’s to potty or play, make sure your dog is supervised. This may include leashed walks vs. counting on voice recall, or staying in the fenced in backyard while your dog is outside.
Training and redirecting behavior
Staying with your dog is a good way to fix the issue temporarily, but ultimately, it’s important to use training to redirect their behavior and ensure your dog stops rolling in poop. One of the best ways to do this is by redirecting their attention. You can make noise that gets them to focus on something else, such as shaking keys, coins, or other sounds that may be more interesting than rolling in smelly things.
Dr. Erica Irish
You can redirect by calling them/getting attention with the bag, then use a clicker or make them sit or something. Then, the new action (and not the poop rolling) becomes associated with getting a treat.
Keeping a clean environment
Another way to prevent your dog from rolling in poop is to make sure there isn’t any poop to roll in. Pick up after your dog and check the yard before letting them out for a break. Even for fenced in backyards, stray cats and wildlife still see your yard as a great place to relieve themselves, so it’s important to check regardless if you picked up after your dog initially.
Understanding dog behavior
There are a lot of dog behaviors we don’t understand. At the end of the day, dogs can’t tell us why they do what they do (although you can train them to talk ). Their behaviors can be explained by their ancestry, breeding, and external factors like trauma. In addition to the chewing we mentioned above, here are some other things our dogs do, and why:
- Rolling in grass. Dogs roll in grass (and eat it) because they like the sensation, are trying to mask their scent, or have an itch.
- Hide their treats. If you regularly have to go find where Fido has hidden their secret treat stash, it might be because it’s in their nature. Dogs bury things to store it for later, or due to stress.
- Digging on furniture. While destructive to us, dogs dig on beds and couches because of instinctive behavior, anxiety issues, or boredom. It’s important to speak to your vet when your dog’s behavior changes without explanation.
- Rolling on dead things. As gross as it is, dogs roll on dead animals for some of the same reasons that they roll in poop — to mask their scent, territory, or other instincts.
- Dogs and eating cat poop. Dogs eat cat poop (and dirt) for a variety of reasons, including boredom, stress, and medical issues.
Dogs roll in smelly things for a variety of reasons, but most of them revolve around instinct. Whether it’s to hide their scent or leave it, this instinctive behavior isn’t malicious or deliberate. It’s essential to remember this as you train your dog and clean up after them.
Health concerns and risks
Your dog rolling in poop isn’t just gross, it can also be a health risk. In addition to spreading germs, bacteria, and foul smells all over the house, your dog wallowing in poop also puts their health in jeopardy.
Some health issues, like an upset stomach or diarrhea, can be caused by dogs rolling in poop. Other issues, like stunted growth, can occur in puppies to do a roundworm infection . Another illness that can result from parasites (which can be picked up by rolling in poop) is a whipworm infection, which can also result in weight loss. While not an illness, it’s important to watch for these signs when your dog has been rolling in poop. Illnesses that can be passed from your dog to you (zoonotic) are also a consideration here. Be sure to stay sanitary and safe when handling waste!
Poop, especially from animals that haven’t been dewormed, can have parasites in it, such as worms. Look for white specks in your dog’s poop and, if your dog has ingested poop from other animals, watch for signs of parasites and reach out to your veterinarian for diagnosing and treating parasites.
The biggest, most obvious danger to your dog’s health when it comes to rolling in poop (and many other smelly things) is hygiene. While gross and smelly, it can also pose a risk if your dog ingests feces or decomposing matter. For dogs with shorter coats, bacteria can cause an infection if it gets into any open wounds, such as shallow scratches from roughhousing.
Frequently asked questions
Why is my dog attracted to rolling in poop?
Your dog may be attracted to rolling in poop due to their instinctual desire to mask their scent, which originates from their ancestral hunting practices. Some dogs also engage in this behavior out of curiosity, or because they find the smell interesting or appealing.
Is it harmful for dogs to roll in poop?
Yes, it can be harmful for dogs to roll in poop as it may contain parasites, bacteria, or viruses, which can lead to infections or diseases if ingested or if they come into contact with the dog’s skin or eyes. Additionally, harmful chemicals or substances ingested by the animal that produced the feces may also pose a risk to the dog.
How can I prevent my dog from rolling in poop?
You can prevent your dog from rolling in poop by keeping your yard clean and promptly scooping waste. On walks, keep your dog on a leash and steer them clear of any feces. Regular training on commands like “leave it” can also help control their behavior.
Do all dogs have the instinct to roll in poop?
Not all dogs have the instinct to roll in poop. This behavior varies with individual dogs and can be influenced by their breed, environment, and personal habits. It’s not a universal behavior, but it is relatively common among canines.
Is there a particular type of poop that dogs are more likely to roll in?
Dogs do not generally differentiate between types of feces and are likely to roll in any kind that they come across. However, some owners note that their pets show a particular affinity for the feces of animals that are part of their diet in the wild, such as rabbits or deer.