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Why Do Dogs Like to Roll in Yucky Stuff?

By: Alex Lieber

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You work like a dog to get your own canine clean and smelling pretty, and how does he repay you? By running to the first pile of poop he can find and rolling in it.

Or, you're both walking along a pretty nature trail, enjoying the sweet breeze, when your dog spots a dead animal. He immediately dives his body into the unpleasant mass of decaying odors.

Why on earth do dogs enjoy this? The answer is simple: it's an instinct. If your dog could talk, he probably wouldn't be able to tell you exactly why he does it, either. No one is sure what the attraction is, but there are three working hypotheses.

One is that dogs are attempting to mask their own scent. This would be a holdover from their origins as wolves. Masking their scent may help wolves sneak up on prey without alerting them by way of smell.

A second theory is that rolling in feces or a dead animal's remains is a way for a dog to communicate that he's found something interesting. The dog (or wolf) then transports that smell back to his family (his pack) in order to advertise his discovery.

A third theory is set forth in the book The Truth About Dogs, by Stephen Budiansky. It is possible, Budiansky writes, that we've gotten it backwards. The dog may not be trying to absorb the scent; instead he may be trying to impart his own scent onto the object of his interest, for the same reason that a dog may urinate on a tree. The purpose may be no more than to leave a calling card – to overmark a another scent.

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