Dogs roll in bird poop to show the rest of the pack where they have been. It’s an instinct that has been passed down from their wolf ancestors. It’s not just bird poop. Dogs will roll in any “nasty” scent they believe the rest of the pack will want to know about.
Have you ever been out in your yard or on a walk with your dog, and suddenly you see him roll in something?
His sniffing quickly turns into a tilted head, butt up in the air, trying to rub his neck in something nasty and smelly. Before you know it, his entire body is rolling back and forth on the ground, trying to cover himself in the scent.
t’s never a pleasant scent either. Your dog doesn’t come back to you smelling like flowers or fresh-cut grass. It’s something stinky and smelly that you surely don’t want back in your house, like bird poop, manure, or even worse, the carcass of a dead animal.
So why do dogs do that? It can’t just be to ruin our day, right?
Common Reasons Dogs Roll in Bird Poop
We don’t know for sure, but there are a few theories on why dogs roll in smelly things like bird poop.
Scent makes up such a significant part of how our dogs see the world that we really can’t comprehend this behavior. But one thing is for sure, they really seem to enjoy it.
Instinct to Mask Their Own Scent
Many researchers believe dogs roll in something that smells because they are trying to mask their own scent. This behavior has been passed down to our dogs from their ancestors who needed it for hunting or survival.
Back when our dogs were part of the wild dog pack, they needed to cover their scent to trick their prey. It’s much easier to sneak up on a deer if you smell more like another harmless animal of prey than if you smell like a dangerous predator.
However, wolves have been known to roll in the scent of other predators too, so this can’t be the only reason. It would be counterproductive to mask your scent with another that would cause alarm bells for your prey. Wolves also chase their prey when they hunt, which doesn’t require much of a disguise.
Another reason ancient dogs may have tried to mask their scent was to disguise themselves from larger predators.
Although they are high on the food chain, there are still other predators that wild dogs or wolves would want to hide from.
By covering their scent, they could go unnoticed and undisturbed. This camouflage behavior has been observed in smaller predators, including grey foxes, which rub themselves in mountain lion urine.
To Show Where They’ve Been
It’s also possible that wild dogs wanted to roll in different smells to show their pack where they have been. It’s their way of telling the story of their latest adventure through.
By coming back smelling like a deer carcass, a dog could quickly tell his pack what exciting and tasty feast he found while exploring on his own. The rest of the pack could then follow his scent back to the remaining carcass to eat the leftovers.
Similarly, coming back smelling like a cow patty or bird droppings would indicate to the rest of the pack what animals of prey were close by for hunting.
Maybe part of the reason grey foxes rub themselves in the scent of the mountain lion is to warn others of nearby predators.
What Can You Do About It?
No one has a definite answer as to why our dogs roll in foul smells. But everyone seems to agree that it’s a behavior that has been passed down from their ancestors.
It served a purpose at one time in their past, and although it is normal, natural behavior for our domesticated dogs, there’s no real reason for them to do it anymore.
Discourage, Don’t Punish
For most of us, the first instinct when we see our dog rolling in poop is to yell and scold them. But it’s important to remember that this is his natural behavior for your dog.
It might not be how you want him to act, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Work on training your dog so you can discourage them from rolling in foul smells, rather than punishing them for doing it.
The best way to do this is to teach him to associate rolling in a smelly pile of bird poop with a negative consequence.
A spray bottle filled with water or a loud noise works well. Anything that distracts him from the act and is at least mildly unpleasant for your dog.
The next time you see him roll in bird poop, immediately spray his muzzle with water, clap your hands loudly, or shake a bottle full of pennies near.
Then correct your dog and remove him from the smelly object. After a few experiences like this, your dog will start to understand that rolling in smelly poop is no longer acceptable. Just stay calm and consistent.
Avoid the Smells
If you’re still working on training your dog, don’t expect him to be immediately perfect.
The best thing you can do to help him learn, especially if you’re not ready to correct him in the moment, is to avoid any foul smells that he might be tempted to roll in.
Keep him on a short leash when you go out on walks. If he can’t get to the smell, he can’t roll in it.
If he likes to roll in something in your backyard, try to keep the yard clear. Use a hose to spray off any bird poop that might be back there, or try to deter your neighbor’s cat from coming into your yard to do his business.
Some dogs will even roll in their own poop if it’s not picked up quickly, so do your best to clean up after your dog as often as you can.
Find a Good Dog Shampoo
Chances are, no matter how hard you try and how well you train, eventually your dog will still get into something gross and smelly.
One day on your walk, you’ll encounter a smell so bad that your dog won’t be able to resist. He is, after all, still a dog with dog instincts.
Be prepared with a good dog shampoo that will get him clean and smelling like a better version of his old self.
Dog Instincts Might Seem Weird to Us
The desire to roll in smelly things like the poop of other animals is believed to be a trait passed down to domesticated dogs from their wild ancestors.
It doesn’t appear to serve a purpose in their modern lives except to bring them pure joy. You can at least breathe a (fresh) sigh of relief, knowing that this behavior is completely normal and something all dogs do.
You can work on training your dog to avoid the behavior, and if you’re vigilant, you can also prevent the sources of these foul smells.
It will take time, but eventually your dog will learn to leave smelly things alone, or at least off his coat.
In the meantime, with a good dog shampoo, you can quickly get your dog cleaned up and get back to your cuddles on the couch.
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