Why Do Dogs Roll on Dead Bugs? The Power of Instinct

dog rolling on grass

The most commonly accepted reason for dogs rolling on dead bugs is that they’re hiding their own scent. Some experts also claim that dogs roll on dead bugs to gather the scent to bring back to the pack. This lets the pack know there’s potential food in the area. 

Of all the strange dog behaviors out there, one of the least appealing has to be their love of rolling on dead bugs or other gross things.

Why Dogs Roll on Dead Bugs and Other Gross Stuff?

If an aspect of your dog’s behavior is troubling you, it’s often helpful to understand what’s driving the behavior to begin with.

Understanding what’s driving the behavior is a great starting point for deciding how best to modify it. However, experts don’t always agree on the evolutionary reason behind certain behaviors, like rolling in smelly substances.

Below are the most commonly believed reasons behind this unpleasant behavior.

Hiding Their Scent

By far, the most commonly accepted reason for dogs rolling on dead bugs, and in even grosser substances like feces and animal carcasses, is because they’re hiding their own scent.

In theory, they do this to prevent predators from finding them and is an instinct that’s been directly passed down from their wolf ancestors.

However, some question this theory because wolves themselves are predators and are at the top of the food chain. They typically don’t really have to worry about other predators unless they’re sick or have been abandoned by the pack.

Covering a Bad Smell

Sometimes, dogs will roll on strong-smelling substances to remove another strong smell. These will most often be grooming products, especially those with a strong scent.

Some dogs will roll around after a grooming session because of skin irritation though, so it’s not always caused by an aversion to the scent.

If your dog’s skin is red or he keeps scratching, he might have clipper burn or an allergy to the grooming products.

Gathering Information

Much of what a dog learns about the world is through his nose.

Some experts think that dogs roll in things like rotting carcasses or on dead bugs to gather the scent to bring back to the pack. It’s the equivalent of humans taking field notes to bring back to a group for analysis.

This makes sense when you consider that dogs are pack animals, and wolves and wild dogs hunt and live in groups, sharing their resources with each other.

If a dog finds something interesting and he wants to make sure others know about it, an easy way for him to accomplish this is by covering himself in it.

Sense of Community

Wild dogs and wolves have been observed rolling in the same scent, which is thought to be a behavior associated with group cohesion or unity.

If you’ve ever been part of a team with uniforms or a group chant, this is the same idea, but on a canine level.

They Enjoy The Smell

The least appealing reason for dogs rolling on dead bugs and other gross things is simply because they enjoy it.

Our senses, likes, and dislikes are very different from dogs’, and sometimes we just have to accept the fact that they might really enjoy smells that we find disgusting.

As much as we don’t want to accept it, there’s a very good chance that rolling on a dead bug is the equivalent of us visiting a high-end perfume counter.

How to Prevent Your Dog From Rolling on Dead Bugs

Keeping your dog from rolling on dead bugs or other smelly substances can be tricky since it’s such a strong instinctual drive for some dogs.

Prevention

The old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” is very true when it comes to keeping your dog from rolling in undesirable substances.

This can mean anything from:

  • cleaning up after him right away, especially if his potty area is in your yard
  • keeping him leashed when outdoors
  • keeping an eye out for potential icky substances while out with him

If you can spot and remove potential issues before the behavior happens, it will save you the unpleasant task of cleaning the muck off your dog later.

Distraction

If you notice a “roll-worthy substance”, you can try distracting your dog before it has a chance to roll in it.

Keep treats or a favorite toy on hand during outside activities, so you’re ready to provide him with an alternative fun activity to rolling on dead bugs.

Training “Leave It”

Training “leave it” can be useful for many situations:

  • preventing your dog from eating or picking up anything he shouldn’t
  • keeping your dog from rolling in something he shouldn’t
  • stopping your dog from chasing something or someone he shouldn’t

Of course, this training needs to be taught and strengthened in advance to be effective. In the meantime, using the leash, prevention or distraction methods will be useful.

Training “Come” or “Heel”

Training “come” or “heel” commands can also be useful, especially if you often walk your dog off-leash.

As soon as it looks like he might roll in something, have him come to you. This will often provide enough distraction that he’ll forget about the thing he was planning to roll in.

Other Scent-Masking Behaviors in Dogs

Rolling in other scents isn’t the only way dogs try to cover their own scent, as you’ll see below.

Urinating on Your Belongings

Often mistaken as passive-aggressive behavior, urinating on your belongings, especially your bedding, is often actually a sign of anxiety.

Signs that urinating on your belongings is due to anxiety are:

it happens when you’re away or after he’s been scolded or frightened
it’s accompanied by other anxious behaviors like excessive barking or destructive chewing

Rolling on Your Dirty Clothes

Rolling on or playing with your dirty clothes is your dog’s way of trying to cover himself in your scent.

You’re the pack leader, so it makes sense that your dog would want to smell like you, either for comfort or social unity.

Hiding in Your Bed

Hiding in your bed, which likely smells more like you than anything else in your home, is another sign of an anxious dog who’s seeking comfort.

This is usually harmless and means he just likes to be near your scent (like a security blanket in children). It can also be a sign of a separation anxiety.

If you suspect your dog has separation anxiety, it would be wise to consult a dog behaviorist who can help your dog feel more confident and secure while you’re away.

Rolling on Dead Bugs is an Instinct

When it comes to strange behaviors like rolling on dead bugs, instinct can be blamed most of the time.

Dog’s are such an everyday part of our lives. It’s easy to forget that they evolved from wild wolves. They’re often driven by instinctual urges which once served a very important purpose.

Keep this in mind next time your dog does something less-than-ideal. It will help you understand his motivations and perhaps give you a little more patience with your pup.

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