Most dog owners have probably experienced something like this; you’re outside with your dog, and when you turn your back, he’s rolling around in the dirt. Moments like these are incredibly frustrating if you’ve just bathed your dog!
While this behavior may seem bizarre to us, it doesn’t appear so strange for dogs. But why do they do this? What compels our furry friends to coat themselves in all sorts of filth?
While there is no single, clear-cut answer, it is largely agreed that dogs roll in the dirt to mask their scent from prey or predators. However, there are plenty of other possible explanations for your dog’s strange habits. In this article, we’ll go over these reasons in more detail.
Is it Normal for Dogs to Roll in the Dirt?
Before getting into the finer details of your dog’s messier habits, you may wonder if rolling in the dirt is a normal behavior or a cause for concern. While certain behaviors can indicate that something is amiss,1 this generally isn’t among them.
Rolling in the dirt is a normal canine behavior that doesn’t usually indicate any more profound complications. While there are always exceptions to the rule, it is far more likely that your dog is rolling in the dirt simply because that’s what dogs do and not because anything is wrong. Later on, we’ll discuss deeper issues that may cause your dog to roll around.
This Instinct May Be Linked to their Wild Ancestors
It is believed that rolling in dirt is an instinct carried over from your dog’s wild ancestors, as wolves can be observed rolling in the dirt just as our dogs do today. However, the reasons that wolves roll in dirt may be different, as they tend to roll in the same patch of earth as the rest of their pack to create a communal scent.
Your dog may roll in the dirt due to the instincts he inherited from his wild ancestors, but equally important to instinct is the idea of reinforcement. If your dog rolls in the dirt once and realizes that he really enjoys it, the chances of him rolling in the dirt again are high.
Why Do Dogs Roll in Dirt After a Bath?
Few things are more frustrating than watching your squeaky-clean dog roll around in filth. On the flip side, your dog may think that there are few things more frustrating than smelling like shampoo!
Dogs roll in the dirt right after a bath to eliminate that fresh and clean scent we covet so much. While a shampoo’s fragrance may be pleasant to us, the same can’t be said for our canines. These fragrances can be strange at best and overpowering at worst for our dogs, so the urge to get rid of them is understandable.
Still, that doesn’t mean seeing your clean dog make himself dirty again is any less exasperating. To avoid this issue, try to wash your dog with scentless shampoos and see if that resolves the problem.
Other Reasons Dogs May Roll in Dirt
Besides covering up his scent and getting rid of shampoo fragrances, there are a few other reasons why your dog may like to roll around in the dirt.
Picking Up a Scent
Rolling in the dirt is a good way for your dog to cover up his scent but also a good way for him to pick up a scent that has been left behind. If another animal urinated or defecated in that spot, your dog may roll around in it to try and pick up their scent.
If you’ve ever seen graffiti that says something like “Fred was here,” you can understand your dog’s urge to leave a similar mark. Since dogs communicate primarily through scents, they may roll around in the dirt to leave their scent for other animals to find.
Trying to Scratch an Itch
When your dog has an itch that he just can’t reach, his only option for relief may be to roll around on the ground until he can hit the spot.
It’s Fun, and it Feels Good
Sometimes, dogs don’t have a much deeper meaning for doing something beyond simple enjoyment of the activity. While it may not look fun to us, rolling in the dirt may be one of your dog’s favorite activities.
Rule Out the Possibility of Skin Conditions
While rolling in the dirt is normal for dogs, there is always a chance that it indicates a larger problem. If you notice your dog scratching and licking himself more often, then he may be dealing with a skin condition. Without treatment, skin conditions can lead to more serious complications, and they can leave your dog vulnerable to infections.
Watch out for some of the common signs of skin conditions:
- Dry or flaky skin
- Redness or discoloration of the skin
- Scaly or bald patches
- Swelling or lumps
- Hot spots
Depending on the specific type of skin condition, the signs may vary. If you notice these signs, consult your vet for a proper diagnosis and treatment.
How to Prevent Your Dog from Rolling in the Dirt
While rolling in the dirt is normal behavior, that doesn’t mean it is always ideal. If you want to end your dog’s messy habit, the best way to rein him in is with a firmly established recall ability.
Recalling your dog on command is an essential ability that all dog owners need. Through dedicated training, you can recall your dog when you notice him eyeing a patch of dirt.
Rolling around in the dirt is a strange, filthy habit that our dogs have, but it’s fairly normal. If you believe the behavior is abnormal for your dog, watch out for signs that he may have developed a skin condition. Otherwise, working on your recall ability or keeping your dog on a leash while outdoors will do wonders for keeping your pup dirt-free.