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Why do dogs roll in poop?

Why do dogs roll in poop. A dog rolling in a field
(Image credit: Getty Images)

You’re lucky if you’ve never had to wonder why do dogs roll in poop. Those with dogs that have a disturbing propensity for rolling around in poop – and other charmingly smelly things such as dead animals – will know all too well that it’s a potential hazard every time you go for walkies.

In the end, it is likely that it comes down to behavior inherited from their wild ancestors, such as scent marking, camouflaging themselves, or even bringing home news of a tasty food source to the rest of the pack.

Some dogs don’t do it at all, some dogs only do it rarely, while others can’t seem to help doing it every time they’re outside. But is there anything we can do to stop our dogs from rolling in poop? Let’s find out…

Why do dogs roll in poop and dead things?

We don’t actually have a definitive answer as to why some dogs are particularly attracted to certain stinky smells – and why they feel so moved to roll in them. But there are a few possible reasons which seem to make the most sense:

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.

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.

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.

Boredom
Sometimes dogs seem to do things just because they want to, or they have an abundance of energy from being bored.

How to stop a dog rolling in poop

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.

Learn your dog’s cues
If you pay close attention to your dog, you should quickly be able to learn when they’re just about to roll in poop or something else smelly. This will differ precisely from dog to dog, but it usually involves a sniff, bowing of the head, and a movement into the best position for rolling. Being on guard and ready to step in before it happens is the best idea, particularly if you’re somewhere you think might have a lot of tempting smells around.

Use the 'Leave it' command
The 'Leave it' command is one that your dog should learn from the get-go. It can be useful for getting them to leave and drop all manner of things that they shouldn’t have their chops around. You can also use it for getting them to avoid poop – a firm, sharp 'Leave it' just as they’re about to dive into the roll will work well for a lot of pups. Spend some time learning how to train a dog with treats to make sure they are likely to obey you.

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.

Keep your dog on a leash
Finally, probably the most obvious answer here is to keep your dog on a lead, particularly while they are still learning to obey commands.

Why do dogs roll in poop and eat it?

Not only do some dogs have the charming tendency to roll in poop, but you may also find that they eat it. 

It’s called coprophagia and there are a number of reasons why dogs do this, which is something we explored in our piece why do dogs eat poop. Often, dogs consider it to be food, rather than waste because there’s some kind of nutrition in it – others simply like the taste.

Rarely is it a cause for panic should your dog roll in poop and then eat it, but it’s important to be mindful of any changes in behavior or illnesses – make sure to tell your vet what happened if you do spot anything.

How to clean animal poop from your dog

Why do dogs roll in poop. A dog being washed

(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 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.