Have a pooch who loves to roll around gleefully in the grass?  How about a dog who loves to drop his shoulder in droppings of an unknown origin?  Or a sassy puppy who prefers to rub her back all over that dead bird she found in the park?  Ever wonder WHY you dog does such gross and disgusting habits, such as rolling in excrement or things of a deceased nature?

Let's first describe the differences in rolling, so you can better understand WHY your dog is doing so.  I'm not necessarily talking about a submissive rollover, a very intentional communication signal that means "I come in peace, I mean no harm!"  Think about it -- all your vital organs are around your ventral abdomen, so you wouldn't show your belly, unless you were completely comfortable with your surroundings.  So next time your dog flops over and presents her tummy, she is telling you she really loves and trusts you, so give it a good scratch!  (And as a side note, PLEASE NEVER FORCE YOUR DOG INTO A SUBMISSIVE ROLLOVER!  Dogs WILLINGLY go "belly up", and forcing them into this position will NOT make them "submit", but rather probably get you bit!)

Aside from offering appeasement with a rollover, dogs love to roll, simply because it's fun!  They roll to groom, scratch that itch they can't reach, and give a self-massage.  Ever see a bear use a tree to scratch its back?  Well, rolling is the same concept for a dog.  My old man Boomer used to roll in the grass with gleeful abandon, for no reason at all!  His eyes would get all squinty as he'd flip from side to side, sneezing happily, paws pedaling in the air with no rhyme or reason.  Rolling is a non-threatening behavior, and it reflects a relaxed, blissful state of mind.  Boomer would excessively roll when he was wet after a bath, too.  Makes sense to me, as rolling is a big anxiety reliever, and a common displacement behavior dogs use to help calm themselves down.

So far, we've learned rolling can either be submission, or a happy state of mind, or possibly a relaxing displacement behavior.  So what does it mean when your dog rolls IN something?  Personally, my dog Brogan loves to roll in stinky things -- the nastier, the better!  He spots a pile of something gross, and then methodically drops his neck and shoulder into it, anointing himself proudly with the pungent scent.  Among his favorite stinkies include: any form of excrement, deceased carcasses, dead worms, and crusted bird poop on the sidewalk... and he always seems to do it when Mom is running late for work and doesn't have time to give him a bath!

But why would our dogs cover themselves in these atrocious smells?  Well, to a dog, that offensive smell is actually very attractive, almost like a delicate perfume or a musky cologne.  The unpleasant-to-us behavior was passed down from wolves, who will roll in decomposing material such as a rotting carcass, or drop their neck and shoulder into a pile of animal droppings, to deliberately mask their own scent.  It benefits them to hide their scent, as it makes it more challenging for their predators to hunt and track them down.  It's also beneficial to smell unfamiliar when hunting.  Prey animals have sensitive noses too, and would be much less alarmed by the foul odor of excrement, than of their scent of their predator.

So next time your dog exuberantly rolls on that dead worm, try to remember -- he thinks he's doing it to smell good for you!