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Dog rolling on its back in the grass

The essentials

  • Blame their ancestors — Dogs are descended from wolves, who roll in dead prey to mask their own scent while hunting.
  • Dogs have various reasons for doing it — They may be claiming the animal, alerting other dogs to their findings, or enjoying the smell.
  • Behavioral training can help curb this behavior — Use positive reinforcement and leash training to deter your dog from dead animal findings.

Owning a dog is full of benefits. Cleaning the smell of roadkill off their fur after they’ve rolled around on an animal carcass is not one of them. But before you go into full-blown panic mode, you should know that while this tendency to flounder in another creature’s remains is disgusting, it is actually a strangely normal behavior (oxymoron intended).

The truth is, this perplexing habit is likely ingrained in your domestic dog from their not-so-domestic ancestors. So what exactly is going through their heads right before they roll around on a corpse?

Why do dogs roll on dead animals?

You probably didn’t have “dog rolls on dead animal carcass” on your pet parent bingo card. But if your dog enjoys romping around on a deceased bug, bird, squirrel, or mouse, it might make you feel a little better to know you’re not alone. While scientists are not 100% sure about the reasoning dogs have for this, there are several dominating theories.

Reason #1: Masking their scent

Have you ever seen the episode of The Walking Dead where the ensemble rubs zombie innards on their clothes to disguise themselves from the undead? Your pup may have a similar thought process when moving around on dead animals. Sorry, but gross behaviors warrant gross analogies.

Our dogs descend from wolves, who roll on animal corpses to mask their own scent from their prey while they’re hunting. Other canids like coyotes, foxes, and jackals do it as well. It’s possible your fur baby is exhibiting the same instinctual behavior, despite how unnecessary it is for them given all their meals come from the pet food aisle.

Reason #2: Communicating with other dogs

It’s also possible your dog rolls on dead animals because they descend from pack animals. Wolves travel together when hunting for food, and with their incredible sense of smell, scent is their best way to communicate with one another. By getting the scent of a dead animal on them, they can alert their pack that they’ve found prey. In the world of domestic dogs, this could be your pup’s nice way of informing other pups that there’s a yummy corpse nearby (your pup’s words, not ours).

Another way to look at it is that your dog is showing off to other dogs that they’re a good scavenger who found prey. In this case, they’re wearing the scent like a badge of honor. It’s their way of saying, “Yeah, that’s right. I found a dead animal. Jealous?” And the weird part is that any dog they encounter probably is!

Reason #3: Leaving their own scent

Every dog owner is aware of how their four-legged family members mark their territory with urine, particularly those who have been through the nightmare that is house training. But did you know dogs mark their territory with their bodies too? Well, that could be the reason behind their knack for carcass frolicking.

In this scenario, your four-legged friend isn’t trying to get the dead animal’s scent on them, but rather get their scent on the dead animal. Essentially, they are claiming the late critter as their own, and warning any other predators who come across it to back off. Not to keep pointing the finger at the ancestors, but you can blame their wolf forebears for this method of scent-marking as well.

Reason #4: A fascination with the smell

Hunting instincts aside, your dog might just like the smell of dead things. Simply put, dogs aren’t always (or even mostly) grossed out by the things people are. It’s why they eat poop, dirt, and grass, and like to scamper around on rotting vegetation and manure. As we mentioned earlier, dogs have an incredible sense of smell. The stronger the scent, the more attractive it is to them. And there are few things more fragrant than a rotting animal.

How to keep your dog from rolling on dead animals

You’re probably looking for ways to put an end to this stomach-churning behavior. The good news is there are training methods owners can implement to build better behavioral patterns with their pooch. The bad news is you’re essentially telling your dog to ignore thousands of years of deep-rooted hunting instincts embedded in their psyche. But as with any training, time, patience, and consistency are your greatest tools.

There are other steps you can incorporate in your home and daily routine to deter (or completely get rid of) this habit. Here are some tips for owners at their wits end with their dog’s dead animal obsession:

Tip #1: Use recall training

The recall command can be particularly useful in redirecting your dog to you when they’re headed for trouble. While it’s generally best to teach puppy’s recall from a young age, owners can work on it with their adult dogs as well. Armed with their favorite treats, summon your dog over to you using a command like “come” or their name, and then reward them when they do so. As they get better, increase the distance more and more, and even try doing it from a separate room or area where you’re out of sight.

Tip #2: Avoid negative attention

Owners can also deter their dog from dead animals by generally not rewarding negative attention-seeking behaviors with, well, attention. Ignore bad habits like barking, chewing, and picking up things they shouldn’t have, rather than petting them to calm them down or reprimanding them. If they’ve gotten into something valuable or toxic, divert their attention by throwing a toy or ringing the doorbell so you’re at least not validating the bad behavior.

On the flip side, you’re going to want to excessively praise and reward any and all desirable behaviors such as calmly walking over to you or not barking when someone comes to the door. The more defined the line becomes between good and bad behaviors, the more they will gravitate towards the ones that result in praise and treats. It should go without saying that rolling in dead animals falls in the bad behavior category.

Tip #3: Use a leash whenever possible

Leash training is another effective way to stop your dog from rolling on dead animals. Instead of letting your pup walk way ahead of you, get them to trot alongside you by consistently feeding them treats next to your hip. If they start to pull away again, abruptly stop walking and call them back over to you, rewarding them when they do. Over time, your dog will learn that your hip is where the treats are, and those dead animals will be in their rearview.

Tip #4: Keep an eye on your backyard

Another good way to keep your dog from rolling on dead animals is to keep an eye out for them in your yard. This means upkeep, upkeep, upkeep! Survey your lawn every day for any dead critters and remove them before letting your dog out. You’ll also want to be on the lookout for any plants or ivy deemed toxic to your pet. Having a fenced-in yard is another way to ensure your dog doesn’t roam off on a scavenger hunt for roadkill.

👉 Though dominance-based methods were once seen as the holy grail of dog training, trainers and vets now agree that positive reward-based methods are not only more effective than fear-based tactics, but they create a stronger canine-human bond.

My dog’s rolled on a dead animal – now what?

Of course, prevention methods aren’t going to help those of you whose dog has already rolled on a dead animal. Much like with removing skunk spray, the first thing you’re going to want to do is assess your dog for injuries and bring them to the vet or animal hospital right away if so. Likewise, if you detect any illness such as vomiting or lethargy, seek medical care.

If they’re not injured, be sure to bathe your dog right away before the odor sets into their fur. Use a vet-approved dog shampoo and be sure to wash them thoroughly (it may take multiple rinses to remove the stench). Owners can also apply baking soda to their dog and brushing it out after it sits in for five minutes. Other household products you could use to fight tough smells include white vinegar, hydrogen peroxide, liquid dish soap, and lemon juice, or a combination of a few of these.

Though rolling on dead animal carcasses seems anything but normal, fact of the matter is that this is a very common behavior that canines exhibit, and some feel more inclined than others to do it. Whether they’re tapping into their ancestral roots, showboating to other neighborhood dogs, or just indulging in their favorite smell, at the end of the day dogs will be dogs. All owners can do is try their best to deter this ancient habit and be prepared to jump into full cleaning mode if their best friend engages in it.

Frequently asked questions

Why do dogs like rolling on dead animals?

Dogs who roll on dead animals are likely tapping into an instinct from their wolf ancestors, who cover themselves in the scent of their prey to mask their own scent while hunting. Dogs may also be doing it to mark the animal with their own scent, show off the smell to other dogs, or just simply enjoy rolling around in smelly stuff.

How do I keep my dog from rolling on dead animals?

Owners will want to use basic obedience training to deter their dog from engaging in unwanted behaviors like rolling on dead animals. This could include teaching recall, leash skills, and avoiding bad attention-seeking behaviors.

What do I do if my dog has rolled on a dead animal?

Check your dog for injuries or illnesses and take them to the vet immediately if needed. To remove the smell from their fur, bathe them with dog shampoo or dog-safe household products like vinegar. Owners can also apply baking soda to their pups.

Should I let my dog stop and sniff stuff on walks?

Sniffing is an enriching behavior for dogs that can mentally stimulate them. Just keep an eye out for dead animals, foreign objects, garbage, or toxic materials that your dog may try to ingest.