I’ve lived with American Staffordshire Terriers since 1981 and have been lucky enough to own four of them. While they were all basically the same because they were AmStaffs, they were all different in their personal habits. AmStaffs are a wonderful breed and my first dog Nimber was a great dog that literally cleaved to my left hip, but for all his nice traits (and he had many) he had one habit that I was never able to break. He liked to roll in nasty things.
Before I had put up fencing for a dog yard where Nimber could exercise safely, there was one weekend that the person supervising his recreation period wasn’t leashing him for his walks. As a result he got loose and went wandering on his own. Nimber ended up getting three baths in a day and a half because he kept rolling in green deer poop. I am totally convinced that he went back to the same spot after each bath just to get smelly again. After I put up the dog run fencing, he was confined safely; but every time he got loose he found the smelliest pile of stuff to roll in.
There are many schools of thought as to why our dogs roll in things we think are nasty. Whether it is a pile of fresh cow or horse manure in a pasture, a pile of deer poop in the woods or maybe a dead animal carcass that they run across on a daily walk, some dogs will roll in it. I have happy news, though – not all dogs roll in smelly stuff.
Some people believe that our dogs roll in nasty things to cover a rival dog’s scent, which seems foolish to me. I have owned enough dogs, both male and female, that will mark a spot with either feces or urine after another dog has left a deposit of their own, but they never rolled in it. If anything they got perturbed by the miscreant marking territory that they felt was theirs.
I read something else that I tend to agree with after living with my own dogs, which suggested that the behavior goes back to that original pack. A dog finding something to roll in was doing it to take a message back to the pack. Bees go back to a hive and do a dance, ants lay a pheromone trail back to their nest for other ants to follow back to the food source they have found. What better way for a dog to take a message back, than to roll in the filthy mess? Their whole body is covered in a new smell!
Dogs are very scent oriented in nature; they always smell each other when they meet (if their owners allow them). If a wolf were to roll in fresh deer poop, they could lead the pack back to the area, and the pack could track the deer, which in turn could lead to a new source of food.
Yet another theory that goes back to the original pack, mentions that our dogs may be trying to camouflage their own scent from others. Think about it – they roll in very smelly stuff and come home not smelling like our dog any more. What better way to protect themselves from anything that may want to harm them, or prey they may not want to smell their scent and become spooked?
The last theory is that our dogs get turned on by many odors. Maybe they just like to smell different than they already smell. We humans use perfume, and according to the findings of one laboratory experiment performed, the dogs tested rolled in a large scope of things, including rotting garbage, dung, tobacco, lemon rind and perfume. This would seem to shoot down either the theory about covering the scent of a rival or camouflaging their own scent from another animal.
So the next time your beloved dog rolls in something disgusting, try not to get angry. And if it makes you feel better, think of it as aromatherapy for your dog.
Read more articles by Ruthie Bently
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