Having your dog roll around in the dirt after you just gave them a nice hot bath is one of the most frustrating things in the world. Right up there with one shoe missing its shoelace or the underpants gnomes in the washing machine single-handedly increasing Haines stock price. It’s not the end of the world or even cause for a bad day. But man, does it get irritating.
But why do dogs roll in the dirt? I’ll give you a hint, it’s not to spite you. I promise.
Is Rolling In The Dirt a Sign of a Problem?
Unless it becomes excessive or obsessive, rolling in dirt is a normal and natural behavior for dogs. Some may do their part to become one with nature more than others, depending on breed, personality, or their environment.
In uncommon cases, your dog may roll around in something harmful or toxic. They could also have health issues with skin infections or allergies. These are the times when it becomes a problem and you will want to take steps to limit the behavior.
Otherwise, live and let roll!
12 Reasons Dogs Roll In The Dirt
As I mentioned, dogs rolling around in dirt is totally natural. But that doesn’t mean we don’t want to know why. After all, we are naturally curious creatures, just like our four-legged best friends.
So here are 12 reasons why dogs roll in the dirt.
1. Because They Can – It’s Fun!
The easiest and simplest answer of all, it’s fun. Curiosity may have killed the cat… but it just got the dog dirty.
Rolling in dirt can be a way to express joy and excitement or burn excess energy. It’s also an easy activity to relieve stress or boredom.
It’s also a form of play, whether with other dogs or humans. They might just be inviting you to play a game that they understand. So ditch the shoes and roll around with your pup!
If you take my advice, send me the video so I can use it in a TikTok montage or something. Thanks in advance!
2. Picking Up Scents For Bragging Rights
Dogs live their life through their sense of smell. To them, smells tell a story, and they want to share that story with you and other dogs.
When a dog finds an interesting smell in the dirt, like rancid fish, for example. They will roll around in it to pick up the scent so they can investigate it later. They will also be excited to return to their pack (you or other dogs) and brag about their incredible discovery.
This is an instinctual behavior often seen in wolves as well.
Dogs will roll in the dirt as a self-grooming method. They can roll around to knock off dead fur, stimulate skin circulation, distribute waterproofing oils, and, ironically, dirt caught in their fur.
They Have an Itch
Sometimes, dogs get an itch that they just can’t reach, no matter how hard they try. You know that feeling? The upper middle part of your back itches just thinking about it.
Rolling on dirt or grass can help relieve the itch. Same with rubbing against a fence post or the edge of the chair. If dogs could back up against a tree and sing the bare necessities, they probably would.
However, the cause of the itch may call for a visit to the vet. Things like:
- Dry Skin
- Fungal Infections
All of these are common occurrences that will give your dog a constant itchy feeling. In these cases, letting your dog roll in the dirt for temporary relief is not a suitable alternative to having a veterinarian find the root cause.
Masking Their Scent (Instinct and Hunting)
One of the most primal reasons dogs roll in the dirt is to mask their scent. Scent masking is another instinctive behavior that dates back to their ancestors’ hunting days.
Dogs can use the natural smell of dirt or grass to cover their scent, making them less detectable by their prey or potential predators. This gives them an obvious advantage when hunting or hiding.
Although modern domesticated dogs don’t need to hunt anymore, many of them retain this instinct.
They Don’t Like Their Flowery-Scented Puppy Shampoo
You may want your dog to smell like mint and lavender or cherry blossom, but they don’t.
The number one reason dogs roll in dirt after a bath is to get rid of that unnatural (to them) smell.
All dogs have different preferences, some most likely won’t mind one bit. But others will want to replace those smells with more natural ones that they prefer, like dirt or grass.
To Cool Down
Dogs don’t sweat like people do; they only sweat through their noses and paws. So, when it’s hot outside, and panting isn’t enough, they have to find other ways to cool down.
One good way dogs have to cool down is to lay on the cooler ground, especially in a shady spot. They may also roll in mud if it’s available. Mud gets stuck in their fur and acts as a natural sunscreen and insulator.
To Dry Off
Dogs also don’t like to have wet fur, it makes them uncomfortable and cold. To them, dirt is a natural towel. Rolling in dirt can help absorb the moisture from their fur, drying it faster.
It can also help remove any extra soap or film that may be irritating their skin.
Remembering Unfamiliar Smells
Adding onto what I mentioned about picking up scents, dogs will pick up smells so they can remember experiences or past events. Dogs can imprint the smell of a new person, place, animal, or anything else they find interesting on their fur and skin and then revisit it later by sniffing themselves or their bedding.
Dogs are social animals that learn by observing and imitating behaviors. This is especially true for puppies who are learning everything for the first time.
If one dog starts rolling on the ground, other dogs will often join them. It’s playing a game and communicating all wrapped up in one simple activity. Sharing scents and experiences can also help dogs bond with each other.
Communicating By Leaving Their Scent (Marking Territory)
Even when other dogs aren’t around, your dog can still leave their scent or a scent they’ve picked up for other dogs and animals to find.
Similar to male dogs lifting their leg when peeing to mark territory, dogs can roll on the ground to leave scents and mark territory, show their presence, claim ownership, or send a message to other dogs.
We may not know exactly what they are communicating, but other dogs will.
Fleas are tiny parasites that cause dogs to itch and cause skin irritations, inflammation, infection, and allergic reactions. Rolling in the dirt can help get rid of fleas and temporarily relieve itchy feelings.
Unfortunately, this is also a good way to get more fleas, so it doesn’t work very well. If your dog has fleas, do them and yourself a favor and get flea treatment products.
When Does Rolling In Dirt Become A Problem?
There is no magic rule to tell when there is a problem. If you think your dog has fleas, allergies, or injuries, take them to the vet. If you think your dog is rolling in dirt excessively or obsessive-compulsively, you should also take them to the vet.
Your vet will be able to look for underlying issues and give you advice to get them to stop the behavior if it’s needed.
Is Rolling Around On Grass the Same Thing?
Some dogs may roll around on grass instead of dirt or do both. Rolling around on grass is similar to dirt in many ways, as it can have the same reasons and benefits for dogs. However, there are also some differences between the two, such as:
- Grass is softer and may be more comfortable or pleasant for dogs to roll on
- Grass may have a more appealing or stimulating smell to some dogs
- Grass may contain more moisture than dirt, which might help dogs cool down or dry off more effectively
- Grass may contain more pollen, chemicals, or insects than dirt, and may cause more allergic reactions, irritations, or infections for dogs who roll on it
Rolling on grass is not exactly the same as rolling in the dirt, but it’s still considered a normal and natural behavior for dogs.
Are Some Dog Breeds More Likely To Roll In Dirt?
While any dog can roll in the dirt, some dog breeds may be more likely to do it than others. This can depend on various factors, such as their size, coat type, personality, history, and purpose. Some examples of dog breeds that may be more prone to rolling in the dirt are:
- Retrievers: Retrievers are sporting dogs that were bred to retrieve game from water or land. They may roll in the dirt to dry off or remove excess water from their fur. Some examples of retriever breeds are golden retrievers, labrador retrievers, lagotto romagnolos, and flat-coated retrievers.
- Hounds: Hounds are hunting dogs that use their nose to track their prey. They may be more likely to mask their scent or pick up scents from their environment. Some examples of hound breeds are beagles, basset hounds, bloodhounds, and dachshunds.
- Terriers: Terriers are working dogs that were bred to hunt vermin and dig underground. They may roll in the dirt to satisfy their digging instinct or to get rid of pests from their fur. Some examples of terrier breeds are jack russell terriers, cairn terriers, and west highland white terriers.
- Spitz: Spitz are northern dogs with thick, fluffy coats that protect them from cold weather. They may roll in the dirt to cool down or groom themselves. Some examples of spitz breeds are huskies, malamutes, and samoyeds.
Of course, these are not definitive or exclusive categories, and there will always be exceptions or variations within each breed. The best way to know why your dog rolls in the dirt is to observe them and understand their individual behavior and needs.