Friday, August 22, 2008

Why They Roll

Summer is here, and for a treat you take your dog out for a hike in the woods.

He or she is ecstatic and races off, nose to the ground. Soon you hear the dog crashing through the undergrowth on his way back, but even before you see him, you can smell him! He comes back with his head and shoulders coated with a disgusting, sticky substance that would turn off a vulture. And, to top it off, it's obvious he is mightily pleased with himself since he has a big, lolling grin on his face. What's happening here and how should you react?

Since we can't actually ask the dog, we theorize. One theory harks back to wolf pack hunting behavior - dogs (wolves) roll in the dead carcasses or feces of dead animals to mask their own wolf-type odor, which makes stalking their prey easier. Other behaviorists believe it communicates to the "pack" (in this case we are the pack) what they have found, kind of like a bee bringing back honey. Another theory is that it is doggy perfume that makes him or her more attractive to other dogs.

Some think that the rolling behavior and smell are a method to decrease and repel external parasites such as fleas and ticks. Regardless of which theory you believe, all behaviorists concur that it is normal dog behavior, so the dog isn't trying to be "bad" when he presents himself all gooey and reeking. He's just trying to make a good impression. Well, he certainly does make an impression!

Some dogs never roll, and some always do. All of my many dogs made it a point to seek out whatever disgusting thing was out there and come back wagging their tails, smiling and coated with it. I have had many clients tell me that their dogs would never do that. There isn't much you can do except keep your dog on a leash when hiking, or if that isn't your style, then have some good dog shampoo and rubber gloves handy when you get home (nose plugs might help, too)!

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