Updated: Oct 2, 2019
Stinky stuff. Dead, stinky stuff.
When Winston, my first Boston terrier, was a puppy he LOVED to roll in stinky stuff, the stinkier the better, actually. It did not matter what it was, if it stunk-he was on it. He had a special tell-tale sign when he had found a nasty pile of something that must be rolled in.
He would go up on his tip toes and then drop his right shoulder into the stinky mess. He then proceeded to push himself through it to ensure that it a) got in his ear and b) smeared down the entire side of his body. Unfortunately, this behavior in short nosed dogs require them to get their face VERY close to what they are interested in and often stink gets on their face and lips as well.
My breaking point was the day Winston found a dead iguana. It had been dead for a few days exposed to the hot South Florida sun. As I rounded the corner, I saw him up on tip toes and I was too far away to stop it. He dropped that shoulder and spread the stinky, gelatinous, dead goo all the way from his head (yes, it got in his ear) to his hip. He was so pleased with himself, he could hardly stand it. My husband and I gagged from the smell as we took the hose to him in the front yard because I refused to bring him into the house.
Most dog owners have dealt with this phenomenon at one point or another. It is maddening to have to clean off the stinky stuff while your pup is looking at your like he just did the greatest thing on the planet. To say nothing that by human standards, rolling in stinky stuff is just plain gross.
Why exactly do dogs do this? What possible purpose could it serve?
Experts do not know exactly why dogs like to roll in stinky stuff, since it is difficult to survey them. There are three theories that are most widely accepted.
1. Conveying Information
Some believe that this behavior may be encoded in a dog’s DNA that was helpful when they evolved from wolves. By rolling in something that smelled like prey, they could bring this odor back to the pack. This let other pack members know what was in the area and could possibly be hunted. Like bringing home a take-out menu of sorts.
2. Disguising Themselves
Probably the most widely accepted reason also stems from behaviors of their wolf ancestors. Rolling in stinky stuff allowed them to cover up their own scent. When being hunted, prey could more readily escape by catching a whiff of the wolf scent and have a head start before the wolves got too close. However, if the wolves rolled in stinky stuff (particularly droppings of the prey they were hunting), they would have the advantage of not being given away as quickly. The prey would recognize the smell of the droppings and not feel threatened, giving the wolves an advantage.
3. Living the Dream
The final school of thought as to why dogs would roll in stinky stuff is that they simply like it. That is it. It could just be as uncomplicated as poop, dead frogs, mud and basically decaying anything may be nectar for the Gods in the dog world. Perhaps that is why they look so proud of themselves when they happen upon a treasure of foulness.
There are some things that you can do to help curb or stop this behavior. In Winston’s case, we trained him to pee on anything dead or stinky that he found. This was the perfect compromise because we did not have to deal with cleaning off the stinky stuff and he felt he could continue to take full credit for either the “kill” or an impressive pile of poop he did not himself generate. It was a win-win.
WHERE DO YOU START?
Some of the things that can be helpful to changing this behavior are simple and can be implemented right away, others take some time and patience. A combination of these usually works the best and it is well worth putting the time into the harder things rather than in baths!
Cleaning Up the Yard
This is fairly obvious, but often overlooked. If you have a fenced area where you let your pup out to do his/her business, then sometimes the business adds up. This gives him plenty of opportunity (often unsupervised) to choose the smelliest pile out of the lot with which to adorn himself with. This also reinforces the behavior, so he goes looking for stinky things when in a new area. Keeping his potty area free of pile build-up reduces the exposure and can help diminish the urge to roll.
Recognizing the “Tell”
Learning your dog’s signals that a roll is about to commence can be very helpful in preventing one. If you walk your dog or are with her out in the yard, keeping an eye out can help you catch her before she gets into anything. Like a poker player, most dogs have signs they give off such as sniffing excitedly over a single spot, keeping their nose very close to the ground, circling, change of head posture, making certain noises, and the ever popular-shoulder drop.
Once you know the signs that you dog is about to roll, making a loud, startling sound can distract their attention away from the stink. Some people use clickers, however if your dog is really into his find, something louder like coins in a soda can may be necessary to really distract him and focus on you. Yelling at them is not typically effective, as we know they have a remarkable ability to tune out the human voice.
Teaching the “Leave-It” Command
This is a great command for all dogs to learn as it can apply to not only rolling in stinky stuff but dropping objects that you do not want them to have or consume. We used a similar strategy in teaching Winston how to pee on his finds as well.
First, hold a desirable treat in your fist. Your dog will likely smell your hand and try to get at the treat. Hold the treat until your dog backs away from your hand. Praise him and give him the treat. Do this for 8-10 repetitions a session and you can do 1-3 sessions a day to reinforce the behavior.
Once you see that your pup is consistently moving away from the treat. Then you repeat the same process but adding the verbal command “leave it”. In this way, your dog learns to associate the behavior with a command.
Once this is mastered, then you can place treats on the floor and give the command. Continue to increase the challenge by taking your dog outside in a more distracting environment so that he learns to focus on your command and not the stinky stuff on the ground.
Remember, CATCHING IT BEFOREHAND is critical.
Praising and Rewarding
Once you see your pup follow the leave-it command, then you should shower her with verbal and physical (if you dog likes this) praise and treats. This tells her that she did exactly what you asked of her and feel that she is the best dog in the world (which of course, she is). This goes a long way into coding this new command into her vocabulary. As with any type of training, consistency is key.
Try these steps to curb your dog from finding a hot, stinky mess and rolling in it. We certainly do not want to take away our beloved canine’s joys in life, but certain behaviors are extremely undesirable and unsanitary.
Since this particular behavior is no longer necessary, you can remind your pup that he does not have to go out and hunt an antelope for dinner tonight-you have got that covered.