If you’ve never smelled a dog who’s rolled in fox crap then really, you are blessed. There are worse smells I’m sure but sitting in a car on a hot summers day coming back from the river walk with two “smeared” Lurchers is genuinely physically sickening.
I know that other breeds also like rolling but what is it that makes dogs roll in evil smelling “stuff” and why do they have a penchant for particular perfumes such as Merde de Reynard? Surely If they just want to smell why don’t they roll in something nice like mint or lavender or my wife Gill’s perfume.
First, let’s take a look at some of the theories…
Theory 1: They aren’t trying to get the scent on themselves, but are trying to get their scent onto the smelly stuff on the ground!
Personally I don’t go for this one. Dogs have evolved to mark their territories with much more pungent scents than a quick rub of shoulder fur and regularly use urine and feces to scent mark just about everything and anything.
Theory 2: Dogs roll to camouflage their own scent so they can easier sneak up on potential prey.
Again I just don’t get this. Both my dogs have very strong prey drive and of course being Sighthounds lock onto anything that is visually ticks the box as as a potential snack. Rabbits are the Number One target and it seems ludicrous that it would help to fool a rabbit by pretending to be a fox! Ok rabbits rely more on sound and sight to recognise danger ( big ears and eyes on the side of the head for 360 degree vision) but It’s not that they can’t use their noses and if they are downwind from something that smells STRONGLY of fox they will be off like a shot!
Theory 3: Dogs roll in stinky stuff to inform other pack members of something important or maybe just interesting.
Pat Goodman of Wolf Park once experimented by placing different scents in the wolf enclosure, and found that the wolves rolled in the usual stinky poopy stuff, as well as perfume, a fish sandwich with tartar sauce, and the dog repellent Halt!. Pat noted that several times other wolves followed the scent back to its origin, after smelling it on the fur of the roller himself. Given the highly social nature of wolves, the idea that scent rolling might be a way of returning information to the pack might have some legs. Certainly bees learn about food sources by smelling it on the bodies of their sisters, so it could be a dogs way of passing on information.
Theory 4: Dogs roll in stinky stuff because it makes them more attractive to other dogs.
This one goes: “ Hey! Look at me! I have dead animals in my territory! How cool is that?!” Much of a dog’s behaviour that we might not really understand could be rooted in coping in the wild. Finding food or a mate may have created peculiar strategies so if a dog can advertise to other dogs that they live in an area with lots of dead things then maybe that’s REALLY GOOD?
Theory 5: Dogs actually use strong smells the same way in which we use perfume.
We use smelly stuff not just to make us more attractive to others, but also because we like the smell too. and as unbelievable as it may seem to most Lurcher owners, just maybe your dog is using strong smells both to attract others and to “self-perfume” themselves. It might be that in the world of Lurchers that the smell of rotting animal really ticks all the boxes!. Psychologist and author of many articles about Dog behavior, Stanley Coren wrote in Psychology Today:
“Therefore, I believe that the real reason that canines roll in obnoxious smelling organic manner is simply an expression of the same misbegotten sense of aesthetics that causes human beings to wear overly loud and colorful Hawaiian shirts.”
The Big question: Why do they roll and how do they choose what to roll in?
The range of Lurcher “Roll Ons” seems to be large (please use the comments below to tell me your examples) but at the bottom line they all have very strong smells. My favourite story is from my friend Sam who took his lovely Lurcher Dingo to the local beach in south Wales. (That’s him in the snow on the homepage) When Dingo discovered a dead seal on the beach he actually worked his way inside the rotting carcass to get a really good coating. Evidently the stench was so bad that Sam simply couldn’t be in the car with him and so had to walk him home the 4 miles and then go back for the car later!
Animal behaviour is complex and other species like hedgehogs “self anoint” with feces and urine. Some animals seem use the scent as a repellent, others use it as an attraction, or even a pheromone to change the behavior of others. Male goats urinate on their own chins during mating season ( and that’s another particular smell you never forget). However in all cases, the scent is strong, strong, strong. “The better to make you notice me, my dear.”