Advertising access to resources? Another theory is that rolling around in feces or atop a carcass is a way to share valuable information with other dogs. Researchers at Wolf Park in Battleground, Ind., have found that wolves often followed a scent to its source after smelling it on a pack-mate. In the wild, returning to the pack awash in eau de dead animal might help lead others to a source of food. At the very least, it advertises one’s ability to access a valuable resource, which can make for an attractive mate.
Is it about the dog’s scent? A lesser-supported hypothesis is that the rolling behavior might be to distribute the dog’s scent onto the stinky item, rather than the other way around. This seems like a largely ineffective method compared to marking with urine or feces, especially when dealing with matter so pungent, so experts believe this is unlikely.
It’s fun?! There’s no mistaking a dog’s sheer delight as they roll about, often oblivious to our despair. Some scientists believe the behavior triggers a rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in reward and pleasure. While the behavior likely served an important function in dogs’ evolutionary past, for today’s domesticated dogs, that function has vanished, but the behavior remains because it feels good.
My own dog is known for his daily exuberant rolls in the park, usually commencing after a few happy retrieves of a favorite ball. He’ll trot a few steps away, lie down, and proceed to flip belly up, legs flailing as his body lurches side to side. His tongue hangs from his mouth and he snorts in delight, looking absolutely joyful. To me the message seems clear: Let the good times roll!
As with many things in dog training, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. If you’re likely to encounter nasty things in which your dog will want to roll, keep him on-leash! If using a long line or allowing your dog off leash, pay attention to your dog! Time with your dog, especially when you’ve chosen to let him off leash, should be spent engaged with your dog, not your mobile device.