D ear Old Trainer: Otto, my 5-year-old schnauzer, is a wonderful dog, but every so often he rolls on a dead animal or poop or anything else that smells bad, then comes bouncing back happy as he can be. I brought him home from the groomer today and within 15 minutes he rolled in cow poop. Why does he do this? It makes a mess in the tub when I bathe him, so how do I train him to stop?
Dear Stan: Mine do it too. And like Otto, they are proud of themselves when they do it. No one knows for sure why they do it, but some of the reasons are:
• Reacting to perfume: Groomers insist on inflicting a cheap perfume smell on dogs after they are groomed. It annoys dogs and they show their displeasure by rolling in the strongest smell they can find to mask it. (I side with the dogs – a dead animal smells better than that perfume.)
• Communicating with the pack: Carrying the smell back is a way to inform the pack they found something interesting. The fact they are happy and proud when they come back to their owners with their new smell gives credence to this theory.
• Predator’s instinct: The main reason, though, is related to the canine psychology dogs inherited from the wolf. Wolves roll in feces or a carcass to gain an edge when hunting. Prey looks for a hiding place if they catch the smell of a wolf on the breeze, so masking that smell helps the wolf put dinner on the table for the pack. Dogs don’t have to rely on hunting to get fed anymore, but they are still predators.
Rolling is natural and should be encouraged when dogs are rolling in grass, snow or sand. It helps them shed and to scratch places they cannot otherwise reach, so there is no reason to discourage it.
I tried for 20 years to teach my dogs to roll on command using reverse training. Any time one of them rolled I said “roll” over and over, then petted them and bragged on them when they finished. They all ignored me until last year when Dixie, my golden/heeler cross, took pity on me and decided to do it.
It’s easy to stop Otto from rolling in things, but only if you catch him in the act. You just tell him “no,” and give him a lecture. But you don’t scold him for rolling unless he does it in something that smells bad.
If Otto comes back covered in something, don’t use the tub. Call him over to the outside hose, tell him to stand still and wash him in clean water. You don’t need soap or shampoo.
Make sure his entire coat is clean, then rinse him off and let him shake. Dry him with a towel or let him roll in the grass.
You will both have a good time. He’ll be clean, and he will smell a lot better than he did with that cheap perfume the groomer used on him.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.