Why do dogs roll in poop?

Happy dog rolling on the grass on a summer day
(Image credit: Getty Images)

It’s a behavior that is sure to make your heart sink but knowing the answer to “why do dogs roll in poop?” will at least help you to understand what’s going in a pooch’s mind. It’s doubly important if your dog is rolling in poop and other smelly things such as dead animals rather too frequently because there are actually numerous ways of tackling the problem.

In the same way that we’ve looked at how to stop a dog from pooping in the crate, this guide examines why pooches have a penchant for poop and other smelly things with a view to putting a halt to the behavior. It won’t necessarily be easy because it’s generally an inherited behavior from wild ancestors used to scent mark, for camouflage or to bring home news of a tasty source of food to other members of a pack. But let’s find out more...

Why do dogs roll in poop and dead things?

There is no single answer to this question. Instead, there are numerous triggers for the behavior and these include:

1. Territory marking

Dogs are extremely territorial and if they come across another animal’s poop, they might be worried that there’s another alpha on the block. Rolling around in their poop is a potential way to imprint their own smell into the neighborhood – and let others know that they exist.

2. Communicating with the pack

If your dog comes across something which is particularly tasty (to them) such as a dead bird or insect, they might feel inclined to rub themselves around it to let everybody else in the pack back home that there’s a tasty treat out in the world up for grabs.

3. Camouflage

Similar to territorial marking, covering themselves in another animal’s scent is a good way to disguise themselves. This likely comes from a hunting instinct – so you might find that dogs originally bred for hunting have a stronger desire to do this than others.

4. Boredom

Sometimes dogs seem to do things just because they want to but it’s more likely that they are bored and need to release an abundance of energy. There’s no getting around the fact that dogs get bored and it can lead to all manner of unwanted behaviors.

How to stop a dog rolling in poop

Dog rolling on grass

(Image credit: Getty)

Some dogs are incredibly determined and you may have a battle on your hands if they particularly love this smelly behavior. But there are still a few things you can try to get your pup to sidestep the poop.

1. Learn your dog’s cues

Understanding dog body language cues can change your relationship with your dog so pay close attention to your pet. You should quickly be able to learn when a dog is just about to roll in poop or something else that’s smelly. It usually involves a sniff, a bowing of the head, and a movement into the best position for rolling. Be on guard and ready to step in before it happens.

2. Use the 'Leave it' command

So what should you do after you’ve spotted the cue? Well this is when you want to know how to teach your dog to heel. It’s also a good idea to reinforce the 'Leave it' command because it can be useful for getting dogs to leave and drop all manner of things that they shouldn’t have in their mouth. A firm, sharp 'Leave it' just as they’re about to dive into the roll will work well. You should also spend some time learning how to train a dog with treats to make sure they are likely to obey you.

3. Have plenty of distractions

Although the urge to roll in poop or stinky things might be overwhelming for many dogs, for others, you might simply be able to distract them away. Make sure you have high-value treats on you (those which your dog loves the most), or something else such as a whistle or a squeaky toy.

4. Keep your dog on a leash

If you are really struggling, then the most obvious answer is to keep your dog on a lead, particularly while they are still learning to obey commands. Learning how to stop a dog pulling on a leash will really come in handy in this situation otherwise you may find yourself being dragged into the poop yourself.

Why do dogs roll in poop and eat it?

Now, there is one thing seeing a dog rolling in poop and quite another watching them eat it. So if you’re curious to know why do dogs eat poop – a problem known as coprophagia – then know first of all that it’s actually no cause for panic unless you spot any changes in behavior or illness afterwards. Dogs will eat poop because they think it’s food because there’s some kind of nutrition in it. Some simply like the taste.

How to clean animal poop from your dog

A dog being washed outside with hose

(Image credit: Getty Images)

If you’ve read our article how often should I bathe my dog, you’ll know that you shouldn't wash or bathe your dog too often. Of course, if they’ve rolled in something unseemly, you will naturally have to combat that. 

Making sure you have a good supply of the best dog shampoo at home is a good idea to tackle poop-related emergencies. If it happens close to home, you might also want to try sprinkling baking powder on any 'wet mess' to help quickly neutralize strong odors. If you need to transport your hound back home before they can be properly cleaned, have some doggy wet wipes with you while out on a long walk or in your car.

It’s important to make sure you clean your dog thoroughly if they are covered in something disgusting, making sure you also learn how to clean dog paws to get out any nasties from in there. 

If you’re in a real pinch, say you’ve just run out of dog shampoo, then you might be wondering can you use human shampoo on dogs? The short answer here is to try and avoid it, if possible. If you really have no other option, it’s better than nothing but if used a lot, human shampoo can damage a dog’s skin and is best reserved for emergencies only. Mild shampoo for babies is a better option, especially those without added colors or fragrances.

Amy Davies

Amy Davies is a freelance writer and photographer with over 15 years experience. She has a degree in journalism from Cardiff University and has written about a huge variety of topics over the years. These days she mostly specialises in technology and pets, writing across a number of different titles including TechRadar, Stuff, Expert Reviews, T3, Digital Camera World, and of course PetsRadar. She lives in Cardiff with her dog, Lola, a rescue miniature dachshund.

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