Scent Rolling

The Dog Trainer discusses dog  versus wolf behavior and "scent rolling."

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
March 8, 2012

For last week's article and podcast on gross and semi-gross doggy behaviors, I scouted out as much info as I could find about "scent rolling," the fancy scientist term for when your dog gets an ecstatic look on her face and then drops, shoulder first, onto the ground and just writhes.

I say "your dog," but the truth is nobody seems to have studied scent rolling by domestic dogs.

It's not always a bright idea to judge dog behavior by wolf behavior -- dogs descend from wolves, but differ in many ways. Dogs generally scavenge for food rather than hunt it. Female wolves breed just once a year; female dogs go into heat twice a year or more. Behaviorally normal dogs form social bonds with members of other species, especially us; behaviorally normal wolves don't.

But what the heck, wolf behavior is really, really weird and interesting. And there's been some research on scent rolling by wolves.

One study of 15 wolves found that perfume and motor oil got the strongest scent-rolling response. (Which brand of perfume, don't you wonder? Which brand of motor oil, for that matter?) Runner-up smells were feces from carnivores -- cougars and black bears. Feces from herbivores got a big meh: no scent rolls at all. And wouldn't you think salt pork and tuna oil worthy of wolfish attention? Nope. One roll from one wolf, in the tuna oil. Nada for the salt pork. What is up with that?

The icing on the cake, as it were, is that with results from just 15 wolves, the findings could be a mere fluke.

I have no answers. Nobody has any answers! I eagerly await a study, any study, of scent rolling by domestic dogs. Which leads me to say something I try to pound (gently) into all my clients' heads: The experts, the real experts, the ones who spend their lives taking notes on dog behavior and making up nifty experiments to test dogs' cognitive abilities, don't know much for sure. Is someone telling you they know everything there is to know about dogs, for sure? I am here to tell you that person is in dreamland.

Jolanta Benal is the author of The Dog Trainer’s Complete Guide to a Happy, Well-Behaved Pet. Connect with her on Facebook and Twitter.