Why Do Dogs Rub Up Against Things That Stink?

by Sarah Dray
Great, some gross stuff to roll on!

Great, some gross stuff to roll on!

Jupiterimages/Comstock/Getty Images

If you've ever seen a dog roll around on something incredibly foul-smelling, you've probably wondered why he does it. The short answer is, nobody knows. In fact, scientists have been wondering for decades -- and come up with a number of theories as a result. What this means, of course, is that not even the great scientific minds are sure why that rotten smell is so attractive to Rover. They do have some good guesses, though.

The "Look What I Got" Theory

One of the most common theories is that dogs roll on dead things to make others see they're good hunters. That's right, when a dog rolls on the carcass of a dead fish or raccoon, he's picking up the smell of something edible. This tells other members of his pack "Hey, look what I caught!" and it also lets them know that food is available nearby. Of course, this wild instinct goes back to when dogs lived in packs and needed to hunt for food. Chances are your dog just rolls on it, then goes home and tries to jump on the sofa.

The "Let's Hide That Smell" Theory

Although scientists haven't been able to explain why, there's a chance that he's trying to spread his own scent. So, rather than trying to pick up the smell of the dead thing, Rover might be trying to leave his doggie scent on it. It might be a sign of ownership, just like when animals rub against your leg to leave their scent on you.

The "Let's Just Hide" Theory

Another explanation for rolling on stinky things is that Rover is trying to hide himself. Think about it -- if you're a wild animal and you're trying to hunt a rabbit, chances are the rabbit will be able to smell you miles away and take off. But if Rover rolls on feces or mud or other stinky things, he'll just smell like those things, rather than a predator. The result? A greater chance of hunting successfully. Never mind that your domesticated dog has never hunted anything in his life -- the wild ancestor instinct is still alive somewhere deep down.

The "Stay Away" Theory

Don't worry -- Doggie is not trying to shoo you away. He's trying to keep parasites, predators and insects away, or so this theory goes. The idea behind this is that some insects and parasites are attracted to the smell of animal skin and fur because they want to feed on it. If the skin is covered on some other, really disgusting smell, the parasites will stay away. According to Psychology Today, most experts no longer believe in this theory.

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About the Author

Sarah Dray has been writing since 1996. She specializes in health, wellness and travel topics and has credits in various publications including "Woman's Day," "Marie Claire," "Adirondack Life" and "Self." She is also a seasoned independent traveler and a certified personal trainer and nutrition consultant. Dray is pursuing a criminal justice degree at Penn Foster College.

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