It never fails. You are out for a walk with you favorite canine companion, and he or she heads straight for the stinking roadkill or other dead carcass, and rolls in it. Your darling comes back to you, tongue lolling, with a toothy grin. Your fur baby is so proud of his or her new perfume. If you are truly lucky (not), the odorous find is deposited at your feet.
Rolling on a dead carcass is universal behavior for dogs regardless of whether the canine in question is an elegant Great Dane or a dainty Bisson. Why? Rolling on a dead animal carcass is a hold-over from when our darlings were wild and their dinner was whatever they could catch rather than provided from a bag, can or home-made by you.
Rolling on a carcass is likely to do two things for your dog: it first disguises his or her own scent. From a canine point of view, it is easier to sneak up on your prey if you smell like part of the environment rather than like a predator. The second thing that rolling on the carcass does, is it claims it.
Your dog is able to send out a message, “Hey, look, all other dogs out there. I saw this first. It is mine.” When your darling brings his find to you, he or she is expecting to be praised for the “goody” that could be added to your larder. Dogs are scavengers. They can eat a lot of things that would make you or I very ill.
There is one other thing that rolling in something dead or that smells bad to human senses: your dog might be trying to get rid of a human-made scent that is distasteful to canine senses. Does you dog love to swim in the creek or that smelly, algae covered pond near your home? Many dogs love water, including sprinklers, wading pools, mud puddles and similar water locations but absolutely hate baths.
Why? The perfume that is in the dog shampoo might smell good to you, but your dog does not love it. He or she is perfectly happy playing in water, but add that stinky soap stuff to the equation and your canine friend can’t wait to get rid of that sharp, chemical odor. You might love it when your dog smells like roses, but he or she would much rather smell like the dead squirrel that has been lying in the ditch for several days.
Farm dogs are notorious for dragging in pieces of dead animal. If the farmer is not careful about disposing of the leftovers from butchering or some animal that died while in his care, farm dogs who freely roam the home turf are likely to drag pieces of the animal back to the farm house.
Even if your darling doesn’t have access to the offal from butchering or that interesting carcass that was too large to bury, your home sometimes provides opportunities to indulge instinctive doggy behavior. If you have a cat that shares space with you and your canine companion, the kitty litter box offers supreme grazing territory to your dog.
Remember that part about dogs being scavengers? Consider this: by contrast, cats are obligatory carnivores. That is to say, they can become ill if their diet is not rich in protein. They have a short digestive tract that will not efficiently extract nutrition from vegetable matter. Consequently, when they make a stool, it is likely to still have a high protein content by a dog’s standards.
While you might tell your doggie dearest frequently that the cat’s earth box is not a snack tray, he or she would gladly beg to differ. By his or her standards, when you bag all that up and throw it out in the trash, you’ve just thrown out some tasty treats.
With all that in mind, should you allow your dog to roll in dead things or feces? Or, worse yet, to eat them?
In a word, no. Your dog is acting upon age old instincts, but his instincts do not take in modern developments that could make your fur baby sick or even cause death. Unless you butchered the carcass, you don’t know where that dead thing came from or why it is dead. It could have been poisoned or it could have died of a contagious illness. Even if your dog is one hundred percent up on his or her immunizations, that choice bit of roadkill could be a fatal treat.
The contents of the cat box might be a better-known commodity, but that isn’t really safe either. Cats and dogs share susceptibility to a variety of parasites that are transmitted through feces. If possible, place the cat box in an area that is not readily available to your dog. Your cat will appreciate that, too, since kitty doesn’t really appreciate doggie help while relieving him or herself.
Train your dog to only eat food that is place in his or her doggie dish or that comes from your hand. Keep your dog on a short leash when you are out walking, and make a big deal out of the objectionable behavior. Use unscented shampoos on your dog so that he or she won’t spend the five or six hours immediately after a bath trying to get rid of a scent that could even be painful to canine senses.
At the same time, be aware that rolling in dead things isn’t ghoulish behavior for your dog. He or she is not suddenly “going over to the dark side.” Your dog is responding to what for centuries was survival-oriented behavior. Just because we are not fond of parfum de week-old carcass doesn’t mean there is something wrong with your dog. It just means that you, the pet owner, need to be vigilant about your pet’s environment and careful to re-direct the behavior that is undesirable in our modern world.