Why Do Dogs Roll in Fox Poo? 6 Possible Theories

Why do dogs roll in fox poo

Our house backs onto woods and a large field where foxes hang out. It makes for great wildlife watching and dog walks, but there’s one big downer about this; fox poo. This alone would be fine, but our dog loves rolling in fox poo and the stuff absolutely stinks!

If you’ve ever wondered why dogs are so attracted to fox poo and why your dog loves rolling in it so much, then wonder no more! I’ve researched into why dogs love fox scat, muck, poop, urine, wee, mess, feces, dirt, scent, call it what you will!

I’ve also written a few tips further down the page will explain how to stop your dog rolling in fox poo and what you can do to get rid of the smell. First up though, why do they do it and love it so much?

Why do dogs rub themselves in fox poo?

Scientists and researchers are yet to settle on one definitive reason why dogs love to roll and rub themselves in fox poo. However, there are some theories which make more sense than other. For example, it could be the result of an ancestral trait to mask their own scent due to hunting instincts.

That’s just one possibility why dogs love it so much and are attracted to it. I’ve listed this one and all the other theories for rolling and rubbing in fox mess below.

1. Rolling helps to mask a dog’s own scent to hunt better

Whilst dogs are no longer required to hunt (aside from unlucky strays) they still do have the instinct in them. You see this when they play and chase. And this is where one of the most likely theories about them rolling in fox feces comes from – it’s an instinctive thing related to hunting.

The theory makes sense, because it’s said that dogs roll in fox poo to help mask their own scent. By doing so they can disguise their own smell to blend into their surroundings, making the hunting of prey a lot easier.

Obviously, this offers no practical in the modern age as dogs get their food from us. It’s simply a a hangover in their DNA from the days when they descended from wolves and had to sneak up on prey.

Dr Stanley Coren PhD shares expounds on this theory on the Psychology Today website when he says:

“The explanation which makes the best evolutionary and adaptive sense is that this stinky behavior might be an attempt at disguising the dog. The suggestion is that we are looking at a leftover behavior from when our domestic dogs were still wild and had to hunt for a living.” (view source)

You can almost visualize in your mind’s eye how this work. Dog would see their prey in the distance, rolls in fox poop, and can then blend into the background smells of the forest. It’s the perfect disguise!

And for those of you that might be thinking that the strong smell of fox poo would inhibit a dog’s ability to track and hunt, think again. Simon Gadbois from Dalhousie University in Canada tested it with his own domestic sniffer dogs and had this to say:

“You would think it would interfere with her ability to smell and track other animals, but remarkably it did not affect her performance one bit.”

2. Rolling in fox poo smells nice to dogs

If you have been unfortunate to have your dog roll in fox poo you will know how bad it smells and how hard it is to shift the stink. Not that your dog cares!

Just because we think something smells bad, that doesn’t mean dogs do. Despite dogs have a sense of smell that is said to be up to 100,000 better than ours, they definitely have a different view on what constitutes a nasty smell.

why do dogs rub themselves in fox poo
My dog Claude might like rubbing in fox poo because he loves the smell! He certainly looks like he’s loving it!

The theory here is that your dog loves rolling in fox poo because they like the smell. So the next time your dog does the roll, just look how much fun he’s having… whilst silently cursing him under your breath.

3. Rolling helps dogs to communicate with their pack

This is another theory based on instinctive behavior from days gone by. The theory goes that dogs rub in fox poo so that when they return back to the den, the rest of the pack can get an idea of where they have been and what they’ve been up to.

The reason this could be important is because the pack can smell that the returning dog found an interesting smell, and then they can go check it out. Dogs are scavengers by nature, so could then follow the scent trail, eat the fox poo and then get much needed nutrients into their diet.

Handy Hint: It might sound weird that dogs would get nutrients from fox poo, but it’s true. Read this guide to why your dog is eating fox feces. 

This is more than just an opinion too, as I found an amazing quote from a researcher at Wolf Park in Indiana, United States. This is how they say they see wolves behaving with nasty or odd smells: 

“When a wolf encounters a novel odor, it first sniffs and then rolls in it, getting the scent on its body, especially around the face and neck. Upon its return, the pack greets it and during the greeting investigates the scent thoroughly. At Wolf Park, we’ve observed several instances where one or more pack members has then followed the scent directly back to its origin.” (view source) 

4. Rolling in fox poop can give your dog a kick

As weird as this might sound, rubbing in fox poo could simply be way for your dog to get his kicks and stimulation. On the BBC website I found a quote from Muriel Brasseur of the Oxford Animal Behaviour Centre who said:

“I suspect they get a great big rush of dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in reward and pleasure. If it is a behaviour from their evolutionary past that was linked to survival, it could be reinforced by being extremely good fun.”

She isn’t the only person with this theory either as Dr Stanley Coren whom I referenced earlier also shares this sentiment with the following quote:

“For human beings our dominant sense is vision… for dogs it is their sense of smell. Dogs enjoy sensory stimulation and may be prone to seeking stimulation to an excessive degree. I believe the real reason canines roll in obnoxious smelling organic manner is an expression of the same sense of aesthetics that causes humans to wear overly loud and colorful Hawaiian shirts.” 

5. Rolling and rubbing is them showing off

Another possible theory for dogs rolling in fox poo is because by doing so, they can then show off to their dog friends. Again, when you think about this it’s actually stands up to a degree of scrutiny.

Why? Well, given how we know that dogs like stinky smells, why wouldn’t they roll in fox poo so that it works like a perfume.

Once they are suitably smelly, any other dog that meet on their walk is going to be very impressed with the stink and perhaps even be jealous of your lucky dog!

6. Rolling to let dogs know they have been there

If dogs really do love the smell of stinky things so much, then the rubbing could be your dog’s way of leaving his own scent behind, so other dogs know he got their first.

Dogs are territorial by nature, so if the grand prize of fox poo is up for grabs, what better way to mark territory by putting their own smell on it.

Did You Know? Despite the common misconception, dogs don’t actually act as a good deterrent to foxestrying to get in your garden or yard.

How do I stop my dog rolling in fox poo?

The bad news is, it’s almost impossible to stop your dog rolling in fox poo unless you keep them on a leash all the time, or completely away from areas foxes have been defecating.

That’s why this isn’t a particular extensive guide, and a lot of it involves common sense. Here goes:

  1. Be vigilant: Keep your dog away from areas where foxes are likely to be, and if necessary, put them back on the leash when you reach open grass or woodland. Dogs will also exhibit obvious body language before they roll too, like getting side on and crouching first.
  2. Be vocal: Just before your dog rolls in the fox dirt, you need to say a firm vocal command such as “leave it”. There might be other words to distract your dog with. For example, when I shout “stick”, Claude will always run straight to me as he thinks a fun game of fetch is just about to start!

The bottom line though is probably that you will never stop your dog rubbing themselves in fox poo completely, so need to have a set of actions in place to remove the smell after is happens.

How to get rid of fox poo smell on a dog?

You will read plenty of myths and impractical advice about getting rid of the fox poo smell from your dog’s coat. One example is by using tomato ketchup, which is hardly practical and will cause even more mess.

So, we’re left with the best solutions in my opinion which include the following (which work best in this order):

1. Dog friendly wipes

Start off by really getting into those hard to reach places with dog friendly wet wipes. Whilst most of the fox poo smell will be in the coat, your dog might have stepped in it too, so you need to get into the paws and any other gaps to remove the bulk of any fox mess.

I recommend plant-based wipes that don’t contain any harmful chemicals or man-made fragrances. You can buy a dog friendly pack of wipes on Amazon.

2. Fox poo shampoo

Yes, there is a specially formulated shampoo for dogs that is designed to get rid of the stinky fox poo smell. It’s manufactured by a company called Animalogy and is said to effectively remove the smell of fox feces from a dog’s coat.

It’s available to buy on Amazon, or you can click the link below to read what dog owners are saying about it in the reviews section.

Give your dog a deep clean in the bath or shower, then rinse it all off and dry before the next step.

3. Odour eliminator spray

Once your dog is dry the bath with the special shampoo, I recommend using an odour eliminating spray. Also known as a dog deodorant, I prefer the ones made with natural ingredients, and this one on Amazon has great reviews.

Simply spray your dog, and the wet smell and the fox poo stink should no longer be there. It’s great stuff to use in combination with the shampoo.

Handy Hint: You can read a more in-depth guide to getting rid of fox poo smells from your dog’s coat in this guide here.

And finally… why does fox poo smell so bad?

None of this would really be a massive issue if it wasn’t for how bad fox poo smells. But why is it such an unbearable stink on your dog’s fur?

Well, a lot of it is down the scent glands. These secrete a musk like smell when they defecate. They are also scavengers who eat anything they fund, incuding from bins.

That all makes for terribly smelly cocktail.

Conclusion

Dogs do weird things that we find repulsive, but they love. They will rolls and rub themselves in a wide variety of stinky mess, not just fox poo.

We might never know the reason why they do this for sure, so our best tactic is to try and stop them from doing it in the first place!

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Marc Aaron

I write about the things I've learned about owning a dog, the adventures we have, and any advice and tips I've picked up along the way.

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