While there are many reasons a dog will chase after a squirrel and chew your shoes, the same can’t be said why he likes to roll in poop. Dog owners have been mystified by this behavior for years, but one thing we can do is learn how to prevent it, or at the very least cope with it. Here are a few reasons why dogs roll in their poop and some suggestions to stop them from doing it in the future.
So, Why Do Dogs Roll In Poop?
There really isn’t an answer to this question, but we have plenty of theories to work off. Here are a few theories as to why dogs love to roll in smelly things like poop while playing within the boundaries of their invisible dog fence or the off in the great outdoors:
Hiding Their Smell
Dogs didn’t always have a cozy spot on the couch or food consistently in their bowl. Their ancestors hunted to survive, and it was important to roll in the smell, or poop, of the prey they were after. This allowed them to approach their prey undetected by masking their own scent. So, if you think about it, by rolling in poop, your dog is just following this ancestral instinct that all dogs have.
Communication With Their Pack
Believe it or not, dogs can communicate with each other by rolling around in their poop. After one of his ancestors had rolled in something smelly, the other dogs in the pack were able to sniff him and then follow the scent back to its original location. This smelly method of communication helps with hunting allowing the other dogs to know where the prey has been and allows them to better track prey.
Leaving Their Scent
Lastly, there is the theory that your dog is really trying to leave his scent behind to mark his territory. Typically, we think of this behavior as a dog urinating on things – which is one of the reasons why puppies pee so much – particularly if another dog has also marked the area (1). It’s assumed that this territorial behavior lets other animals and dogs know that they are in your dog’s space. But it can also just be his way of communication with other dogs that he has been there and has already investigated the poop or smelly odor.
Stopping The Behavior
It’s obvious that you do not want your dog continuing this frustrating and smelly activity no matter how much enjoyment he gets out of it. So, how do you stop the behavior? It’s important to understand that since this is an instinct causing him to do it, you are probably not going to get him to stop. You can, however, limit the number of opportunities he has to roll in smelly things.
As you walk your dog, keep him on a leash anywhere you know that he will stop and roll in something smelly. As soon as your dog has done his business in your yard, immediately pick up any poop with a pooper scooper. You also need to keep an eye out for mud or dead animals in your yard to prevent other such opportunities. Most importantly, you want to train your dog to “leave it” if you see him approaching a mess that he will likely roll in.
A dog also loves to get into your garbage. Typically, dogs are really just looking for an extra treat, but they won’t pass up a chance to roll in your garbage, especially if it’s pretty smelly. Always make sure your trash cans are secured so that your pup can’t get into them and spread your stinky garbage all over your yard as he rolls in it.
Cleaning Up Your Dog
So, let’s say he managed to find something particularly stinky to roll in, now what? Well, you’re just going to have to bathe him, and we’re not just talking rinsing off the poop or garbage, but a good lather up soaking. Look for a good odor-neutralizing dog shampoo to take care of the smell. Some also include orange oil, which is recognized as a degreaser and safe deodorizer for really smelly situations.
You can also combine gentle dish soap, baking soda, and hydrogen peroxide in a bowl. Use this mixture to bathe your smelly pup, but make sure to avoid getting any of the soap into his eye since it will burn. Rinse when you are done to reveal an odor-free dog.
Preventing Poop Rolling Behavior in Dogs
If your dog likes to roll in the poop, you know it’s not an easy thing to prevent, particularly if you have a large yard or your dog runs off-leash using a GPS dog fence. Waste from wild animals can be well hidden, particularly from deer and rabbits that tend to be small pellets, which can be spread out. Keep in mind that dogs have a few mannerisms that they do right before they get ready to roll in the poop, so it’s important to recognize these behaviors so you know when your dog is getting ready to roll.
Typically, a dog will focus on the odor of the poop before they roll, so when you notice your dog is laser-focused on an area of the ground with more intensity than normal, he is getting ready to roll. There might even be a pre-roll pose, which means that they rotate their head to the side and descend gradually onto the pile of poop in slow motion. While poop can get all over a dog’s body, a dog will typically start rolling with the side of the neck and face in it resulting in a pretty messy collar. When you start to see these signs, it’s important to step in with a strong “leave it” command.
The ‘Leave It’ Command
Saying “leave it” without your dog understanding the command is not enough to stop a roll in poop. You need to train your dog in this command in a range of different situations. To start, use a dry dog treat and hold it at nose level in your closed fist allowing him to smell it but not get at it.
Don’t open your hand, even if he noses it and tries to nibble at it. After ignoring any interaction he has with your hand, wait until he backs away, even if it takes a few minutes. Then click a clicker or say “yes!” to mark his behavior while giving him an extra special treat from the other hand. Remember that the treat you hold in your hand is representative of the contraband that you want him to “leave”, so he should never be rewarded with it.
After your dog has backed away each time your show your closed hand, you can start to say “leave it” and name the behavior as he moves away. Typically, you can expect about 20 repetitions until the phrase is attached to your dog’s behavior and he understands its meaning. Then, you can make the process more challenging by placing the dry treat under your shoe on the floor. However, you will still go through the same process and reward him from your other hand when he backs away.
The process should be repeated a dozen times and when your dog has consistently moved away from the treat, you can remove your foot for a few more repetitions. You can also try dropping something your dog likes on the floor and ask him to “leave it”, which will help him to generalize his behavior.
Lastly, you want to take his training outside where you can place a few things he likes to interact with or finds intriguing. Revising the original training steps and tell him to “leave it”, which should have a positive and strong association with it.
Finalize his training by creating a similar situation to a poop roll on the trail or in your yard. Find a time when your pup is a little way away from you and practice a “leave it” command when he isn’t right beside you. Make sure to praise him when he retreats from the object you have set up to intrigue him before kneeling down to encourage him to come to you for a treat.
Remember that rolling in poop is pretty rewarding for him, so learning the “leave it” command is a pretty big deal. This makes it important to give your dog a lot of praise and love for doing a good job. Also, look for an area that is poop-free to help prevent any further temptation.