Why Do Dogs Roll in Dead Animals? Unraveling the Mystery

Have you ever wondered, “Why Do Dogs Roll in Dead Animals?” This peculiar behavior may seem gross to us, but for our canine companions, it’s a natural instinct with deep roots in their evolutionary history.

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Dogs roll in dead animals and other smelly substances for a variety of reasons, ranging from masking their scent for improved hunting success to communicating information to their pack mates.

While it may be an unpleasant experience for dog owners, understanding the motivations behind this behavior can help us better manage and prevent it, ensuring a happier, healthier life for our furry friends.

Quick Answer: Dogs roll in dead animals to mask their scent, potentially improving hunting success or sharing information with pack mates. They may also find the smell appealing or enjoyable.

Key Takeaways: 

  • Dogs roll in dead animals and other smelly things as an instinctive behavior inherited from their wolf ancestors to mask their own scent, which can improve their hunting success and communicate information to their pack mates.
  • Some dogs may find certain strong odors appealing and enjoy the sensation of covering themselves in them, while others do it to mark their territory, seek attention, or simply have fun.
  • Rolling in dead animals is a natural behavior for dogs, but owners can discourage it through training, environmental management, and providing mental stimulation and exercise to reduce boredom.

Why Do Dogs Roll in Dead Animals and Other Smelly Things?

Dogs in the Wild

Have you ever been on a pleasant walk with your furry friend, only to have them suddenly dive into a pile of something foul-smelling and start rolling around in it? If so, you’re not alone. Many dog owners have experienced this unpleasant behavior, often wondering, “Why do dogs roll in dead animals and other smelly things?” While it may seem gross to us, there are actually several reasons behind this instinctive behavior.

It’s an Instinctive Behaviour Inherited from Their Wolf Ancestors

To understand why dogs roll in smelly things, we need to look at their evolutionary history. Dogs descended from wolves, and many of their behaviors are deeply rooted in their ancestral past.

In the wild, wolves often roll in strong scents, such as the carcasses of dead animals or the droppings of other predators. This behavior is thought to serve a purpose in masking their own scent, which can be beneficial when hunting or avoiding detection by other predators.

Other wild canines, such as foxes and coyotes, also exhibit this behavior, further supporting the idea that it’s an instinctive action.

They Want to Mask Their Own Scent to Improve Their Hunting Success

One of the main reasons dogs may roll in smelly substances is to mask their own scent. Just like their wolf ancestors, dogs have a keen sense of smell and understand the importance of hiding their own odor when stalking prey. By rolling in the scent of their prey or other strong odors, they can better conceal themselves and increase their chances of a successful hunt.

In a domestic setting, this behavior may manifest as rolling in animal feces, dead animals, or other pungent substances they encounter outdoors.

They’re Trying to Communicate Information to Their Pack Mates

Dogs are social animals, and scent plays a significant role in their communication. When a dog rolls in a strong smell, they may be trying to share information with their pack mates.

For example, if they find a particularly interesting scent, such as a food source or a potential danger, they may roll in it to “collect” the scent and bring it back to their pack. This behavior can also be a way for dogs to bond with their human family members by sharing a scent, even if we don’t appreciate the smell as much as they do.

They Find the Smell Appealing and Enjoy Covering Themselves in It

While we may find certain smells repulsive, dogs have a very different perspective. Their sense of smell is much more acute than ours, with up to 300 million olfactory receptors compared to our mere 6 million.

This means that they can detect and appreciate scents that we can’t even perceive. Some dogs may simply find certain strong odors appealing and enjoy the sensation of covering themselves in them. Just like how they might enjoy rolling in the grass or sand, rolling in smelly things can be a pleasurable experience for them.

It’s a Way of Marking Their Territory and Leaving Their Scent Behind

Another reason dogs may roll in strong scents is to mark their territory. By covering themselves in a particular smell, they’re essentially leaving their own scent behind, which can serve as a warning or invitation to other dogs.

This behavior is related to other scent-marking actions, such as urinating or rubbing their face and body against objects. Some breeds, particularly those with a strong prey drive or territorial instinct, may be more prone to this behavior than others.

They’re Seeking Attention from Their Owner or Other Dogs

Dogs are intelligent creatures and quickly learn which behaviors elicit a reaction from their owners. If a dog discovers that rolling in something smelly gets them immediate attention, even if it’s in the form of scolding, they may continue to do it as a way of seeking interaction.

This behavior can also be a way for dogs to get noticed by other dogs and invite play or social engagement. By covering themselves in an interesting scent, they may be more likely to attract the attention of potential playmates.

It’s Simply a Fun and Enjoyable Activity for Them

Finally, it’s essential to consider that rolling in dead animals or other smelly things may simply be a fun and enjoyable activity for dogs. The tactile sensation of rolling around in something, whether it’s a pile of leaves, a patch of grass, or a smelly substance, can be very pleasurable for them.

It may also serve as a way to relieve stress or boredom, providing a form of sensory enrichment. Just like how we might enjoy a massage or a dip in the pool, dogs may find rolling in strong scents to be a satisfying and enjoyable experience.

What Should You Do If Your Dog Rolls in a Dead Animal?

Physical and Behavioral Traits of Lion Fighting Dogs

As a dog owner, it’s not uncommon to find yourself in the unpleasant situation of your furry friend rolling in a dead animal. While it’s a natural behaviour for dogs, it can be quite alarming and disgusting for us humans. If you find yourself in this predicament, it’s essential to know how to handle the situation to ensure your dog’s health and safety, as well as to get rid of that awful smell. Here’s what you should do:

Assess Whether Your Dog Has Ingested Any of the Carcass

The first and most crucial step is to determine whether your dog has ingested any part of the dead animal. This is important because consuming a carcass can lead to serious health issues, such as vomiting, diarrhoea, or difficulty breathing. If you suspect that your dog has eaten any part of the dead animal, it’s critical to contact your veterinarian immediately.

Some signs to look out for that may indicate your dog has ingested part of the carcass include:

  • Excessive drooling or lip-smacking
  • Pawing at the mouth or face
  • Gagging or retching
  • Lethargy or weakness

If you notice any of these symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek veterinary care right away.

Check for Any Visible Signs of Injury or Distress

After rolling in a dead animal, it’s essential to thoroughly examine your dog for any visible signs of injury or distress. The carcass may have contained sharp objects like bones or debris that could have wounded your dog during the rolling process. Additionally, the dead animal may have been carrying harmful bacteria or parasites that could cause infection or illness.

When checking your dog, pay close attention to their skin, coat, and paws. Look for any cuts, scrapes, or puncture wounds that may require medical attention. Also, observe your dog’s behaviour and body language. If they appear to be in pain or discomfort, or if they are whining, limping, or favouring a particular area of their body, it’s best to err on the side of caution and seek veterinary care.

Prevent Them from Further Contact with the Dead Animal

Once you’ve assessed your dog’s health and safety, the next step is to prevent them from having further contact with the dead animal. The last thing you want is for your dog to continue rolling in the carcass or, even worse, to attempt to eat it.

To safely remove your dog from the area, use a lead or a firm command to guide them away from the dead animal. If your dog is not responding to your commands, you may need to physically remove them from the situation. Be gentle but firm, and avoid yelling or punishing your dog, as this may only increase their stress and anxiety.

After you’ve removed your dog from the area, it’s crucial to dispose of the dead animal properly. Leaving the carcass where it is can attract other animals or create a health hazard for humans and pets alike. Contact your local animal control or sanitation department for guidance on how to safely dispose of the remains.

Bathe Your Dog Thoroughly with Dog Shampoo to Remove the Smell

Now that your dog is safe and away from the dead animal, it’s time to tackle the foul smell. The best way to remove the odour is to give your dog a thorough bath using a dog-specific shampoo. Human shampoos can be too harsh for a dog’s sensitive skin, so it’s important to use a product that’s formulated specifically for canines.

When bathing your dog, focus on the areas where the smell is strongest, such as their neck, chest, and back. Work the shampoo into a lather and massage it gently into your dog’s coat, being careful not to get any in their eyes, ears, or mouth. Rinse thoroughly with warm water until the water runs clear and the smell has dissipated.

It’s important to be gentle and patient during the bathing process, as your dog may be stressed or uncomfortable after their ordeal. Talk to them in a calm, soothing voice and offer plenty of praise and treats to help them relax.

Use Dog-Safe Deodorisers or Odour Neutralisers If Needed

If the smell persists after bathing, you may need to use a dog-safe deodoriser or odour neutraliser to fully eliminate the odour. There are many products on the market specifically designed to remove tough pet odours, such as enzymatic cleaners or sprays.

When choosing a deodoriser, be sure to read the label carefully to ensure that it’s safe for use on dogs. Avoid products that contain harsh chemicals or artificial fragrances, as these can be irritating to your dog’s skin and respiratory system.

In addition to commercial products, there are also some natural remedies that can help neutralise odours. For example, sprinkling baking soda on your dog’s coat and brushing it through can help absorb any lingering smells. Similarly, mixing a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water and spraying it on your dog’s coat can help neutralise odours naturally.

Monitor Your Dog Closely for Any Signs of Illness or Unusual Behaviour


Even if your dog appears to be fine after rolling in a dead animal, it’s essential to monitor them closely for any signs of illness or unusual behaviour in the days that follow. Some symptoms to watch out for include:

  • Lethargy or lack of energy
  • Loss of appetite or decreased water intake
  • Excessive thirst or urination
  • Vomiting or diarrhoea
  • Coughing or sneezing
  • Discharge from the eyes, nose, or mouth
  • Skin irritation or rash

If you notice any of these symptoms or any other concerning changes in your dog’s health or behaviour, contact your veterinarian right away. It’s better to be safe than sorry when it comes to your furry friend’s well-being.

Contact Your Vet Immediately If You Have Any Concerns

Finally, if you have any concerns whatsoever about your dog’s health or behaviour after rolling in a dead animal, don’t hesitate to contact your veterinarian. Even if you’re not sure whether something is a problem, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and seek professional advice.

Your veterinarian can perform a thorough examination of your dog and run any necessary tests to ensure that they haven’t contracted any illnesses or infections from the dead animal. They can also provide guidance on how to prevent future rolling incidents and offer tips on how to keep your dog healthy and happy.

If your regular veterinarian is not available or if the incident occurs outside of normal business hours, be sure to have the contact information for an emergency veterinary clinic on hand. Many cities have 24-hour animal hospitals that can provide urgent care for pets in need.

Rolling in dead animals is a natural behaviour for dogs, but it can be a stressful and unpleasant experience for their owners. By following these steps and staying vigilant about your dog’s health and safety, you can help ensure that your furry friend stays happy and healthy, even after an unfortunate rolling incident.

How to Prevent Your Dog from Rolling in Dead Animals

While it’s natural for dogs to be attracted to strong, pungent odours like those found in dead animals, it’s understandable that most owners would prefer their furry friends to abstain from this behaviour.

Not only is it unpleasant to deal with a dog covered in the stench of decay, but there are also potential health risks associated with contact with carcasses. Fortunately, there are several proactive measures you can take to discourage your dog from rolling in dead animals or other foul-smelling substances.

With a combination of training techniques, environmental management, and lifestyle adjustments, you can help reduce the likelihood of this behaviour occurring.

Keep Your Dog on a Lead When Walking in Areas with Potential Carcasses

One of the simplest ways to prevent your dog from rolling in dead animals is to keep them on a lead when walking in areas where carcasses are likely to be encountered. This might include roadsides, rural or countryside settings, and hunting areas. By keeping your dog close and under control, you can quickly intervene if they show interest in a dead animal and guide them away from the area.

When choosing a lead for this purpose, opt for a sturdy, comfortable option that allows your dog some freedom of movement while still maintaining control. A retractable lead may not be the best choice, as it can be difficult to reel in your dog quickly if they start to approach a carcass. Instead, consider a fixed-length lead made from durable materials like nylon or leather.

Use Positive Reinforcement Training to Teach the “Leave It” Command

Another effective way to discourage your dog from rolling in dead animals is to teach them the “leave it” command using positive reinforcement training. This command tells your dog to ignore and move away from an object or situation, which can be incredibly useful when encountering a carcass on a walk.

To train your dog to “leave it,” start by placing a treat on the ground and covering it with your hand. When your dog shows interest in the treat, say “leave it” in a firm but friendly tone. As soon as your dog looks away from the treat, praise them and offer a separate reward from your other hand. Repeat this process, gradually uncovering the treat and increasing the difficulty until your dog reliably responds to the command.

Once your dog has mastered “leave it” with treats, you can start practicing with other objects, like toys or low-value items. Over time, work up to using the command in real-world situations, such as when encountering a dead animal on a walk. Remember to be consistent and patient in your training, and always reward your dog for making the right choice.

Provide Plenty of Mental Stimulation and Exercise to Reduce Boredom

Dogs that are bored or lacking in mental stimulation may be more likely to seek out novel and strong-smelling experiences, like rolling in dead animals. To help reduce the likelihood of this behaviour, it’s important to provide your dog with plenty of opportunities for physical exercise and mental enrichment.

Some ideas for keeping your dog mentally stimulated include:

  • Puzzle toys: These interactive toys challenge your dog to figure out how to access hidden treats or kibble, providing a fun and engaging mental workout.
  • Scent games: Hide treats or toys around your home or garden and encourage your dog to use their nose to find them. This taps into their natural scenting abilities and provides a satisfying challenge.
  • Training sessions: Regular training sessions not only help reinforce obedience and good behaviour, but they also provide mental stimulation as your dog learns and processes new information.

In addition to mental enrichment, make sure your dog is getting plenty of physical exercise through daily walks, runs, or playtime. A tired dog is less likely to seek out trouble, so aim to provide at least 30 minutes to an hour of activity per day, depending on your dog’s age, breed, and energy level.

Consider Using a Muzzle If Your Dog Is Prone to Scavenging

Anatolian Shepherd Dog

For dogs with a strong inclination to scavenge or roll in dead animals, a muzzle may be a useful tool to prevent unwanted behaviour during walks. A properly fitted basket muzzle allows your dog to pant, drink, and even receive treats, while still preventing them from picking up or consuming any carcasses they may encounter.

When introducing a muzzle, it’s important to do so gradually and positively to ensure your dog’s comfort and acceptance. Start by letting your dog sniff and investigate the muzzle, offering treats and praise for any interest shown. Over time, work up to briefly placing the muzzle on your dog’s snout, always pairing the experience with rewards and positive reinforcement.

If your dog shows any signs of distress or discomfort while wearing the muzzle, take a step back and work at a slower pace. The goal is for your dog to associate the muzzle with positive experiences, so never force it upon them or use it as a punishment.

Dispose of Any Dead Animals in Your Garden or Local Area Responsibly

As a responsible dog owner, it’s important to take an active role in managing your environment to reduce the likelihood of your dog encountering dead animals. This means promptly and safely disposing of any carcasses you find in your garden or local area.

When disposing of a dead animal, always wear gloves to protect yourself from any potential diseases or parasites. Place the carcass in a sealed plastic bag and dispose of it in a secure outdoor bin or as directed by your local council. Avoid leaving dead animals out in the open, as this can attract scavenging wildlife and increase the risk of your dog finding and rolling in the carcass.

By taking responsibility for keeping your environment free of dead animals, you can help minimise the temptation for your dog to engage in this unwanted behaviour.

Be Vigilant and Stay Alert to Your Dog’s Behaviour on Walks

One of the most important things you can do to prevent your dog from rolling in dead animals is to stay vigilant and alert during walks. This means keeping a close eye on your dog’s body language and behaviour, especially in areas where carcasses may be present.

Some signs that your dog may have spotted a dead animal include:

  • Sudden changes in direction or pace: If your dog abruptly veers off course or starts pulling on the lead, they may have caught wind of a carcass.
  • Intense sniffing or air-scenting: Dogs have an incredible sense of smell, and they may become fixated on a particular scent if it catches their interest.
  • Excited or agitated behaviour: If your dog starts whining, barking, or spinning in circles, they may be trying to communicate their desire to investigate a smell.

If you notice any of these signs, quickly intervene and redirect your dog’s attention before they have a chance to locate and roll in the dead animal. Use the “leave it” command, if trained, or gently guide your dog away from the area with treats and praise.

The key is to stay proactive and be ready to act at a moment’s notice. The more quickly you can intervene, the less likely your dog is to engage in the unwanted behaviour.

Consult with a Professional Dog Trainer for Persistent Cases

Despite your best efforts, some dogs may continue to roll in dead animals or other foul-smelling substances. If you’ve tried the above techniques and are still struggling to manage your dog’s behaviour, it may be time to consult with a professional dog trainer.

A skilled trainer can provide personalised guidance and strategies tailored to your dog’s specific needs and challenges. They can help you identify any underlying factors that may be contributing to the behaviour, such as anxiety or lack of socialisation, and develop a targeted plan to address these issues.

Working with a trainer can also help improve communication between you and your dog, as you learn new techniques for encouraging desired behaviours and discouraging unwanted ones. With the right guidance and support, even the most persistent cases of rolling behaviour can be successfully managed.

When searching for a trainer, look for someone with experience in positive reinforcement techniques and a track record of success with similar behavioural issues. Don’t be afraid to ask for references or testimonials from past clients to ensure you’re working with a reputable professional.

Remember, changing deeply ingrained behaviours takes time, patience, and consistency. But with the help of a skilled trainer and a commitment to ongoing training and management, you can help your dog learn to resist the temptation of rolling in dead animals and enjoy a happier, healthier life together.

Frequently Asked Questions

How can I get rid of the smell if my dog has already rolled in a dead animal?

Bathe your dog thoroughly with a dog-specific shampoo, focusing on the areas where the smell is strongest. If the odor persists, try using a dog-safe deodorizer or odor neutralizer, such as an enzymatic cleaner or a solution of equal parts white vinegar and water.

Can rolling in dead animals make my dog sick?

Yes, rolling in dead animals can expose your dog to harmful bacteria, parasites, or toxins that may be present in the carcass. If you suspect your dog has ingested any part of the dead animal, contact your veterinarian immediately.

Are certain breeds more likely to roll in dead animals than others?

While all dogs have the instinct to roll in smelly things, some breeds with strong prey drives or scent hounds, such as Beagles, Basset Hounds, and Bloodhounds, may be more inclined to engage in this behavior due to their heightened sense of smell.

How can I tell if my dog is about to roll in a dead animal?

Watch for signs such as intense sniffing, excited or agitated behavior, or sudden changes in direction or pace during walks. If you notice these signs, quickly intervene and redirect your dog’s attention before they locate the carcass.

Can I train my dog to stop rolling in dead animals altogether?

While it may not be possible to completely eliminate this natural instinct, consistent training, management, and positive reinforcement can help reduce the frequency and intensity of the behavior. Working with a professional dog trainer can provide additional guidance and support for persistent cases.