Why do golden retrievers roll on dead animals or just in the grass?

Our question this week was:

Why do golden retrievers roll on dead animals or just in the grass?

Marueen Cherubini

Answer

Hi – thanks for your email. You wrote asking why your Golden retriever rolls on dead animals or around in the grass. There are several possible reasons – the first is that it is instinct.

1. 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.

2. 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.

3. 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 another scent.

Thanks for your question.

Dr. Debra

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