“Oh yes, Ted is being such a good boy. He’s learning tricks, has stopped begging for food and… oh, he’s just rolled in fox mess…” If this sounds like a conversation you might have, you may be asking why your dog likes rolling in fox poo any chance they get!
In fact, dogs like to roll in lots of smelly things, including dead animals, urine and other animals’ poo. While we can’t get inside your dog’s head and know for sure, there are a few theories why dogs like to do this. Oh, and we’ve got some tips for how to clean off poo and prevent them rolling in it in the first place, just in case…
What is so appealing about this smelly habit?
The most common theory why dogs do this is to cover their natural scent so that any potential prey cannot smell them.
If true, this is likely an old instinct from when dogs were wild. However, there are a few issues with this theory. Firstly, dogs and their wild cousins, wolves, are not especially stealthy hunters, and prefer to sprint after prey – smelling like a fox would not help with that. Furthermore, studies into wild wolves have shown that the wolves often roll in predator poo – covering wolf-smell with cougar-smell would probably not make hunting any easier!
Or, maybe to smell like a predator
If a small dog smells like a bear, an actual bear may smell it and think twice about going too close to the other ‘bear’. However, again studies have found issues, as some top predators, like wolves, do this despite not being at risk of attack from predators.
Studies into wolves suggest that wolves may roll in animal waste and carcasses so they can bring the scent back to the pack.
This would tell the other pack members they had found food. In addition, wild hyenas in Africa love to roll in their kills, covering themselves in blood and organs – quite gross, but researchers have noted the smelliest hyenas receive a lot of attention. And it is clearly a group activity the whole pack enjoys! Could rolling in smelly things be a kind of socialisation for dogs?
So if rolling in poo isn’t related to hunting or being hunted, what other theories are there?
Perhaps dogs do this not to make themselves smelly but to leave their own smell on the poo?
Dogs and other canids have very strong senses of smell and often leave their scent to mark their territory or communicate. Rolling in fox poo could be your dog telling the next dog that comes along: ‘Poppy was here!’
Finally, and perhaps the most likely, is that dogs roll in poo because it’s fun and enjoyable!
Certainly many dogs appear to be having fun until their owner yanks them away angrily. As we said earlier, dogs have powerful noses, and the strong smells may be like perfume or aftershave to them. Some may even get a kick out of getting attention from their owner for their naughty deed.
But probably the reason why dogs roll in poo is a combination of all of the above and more. We may never know… but before we judge, we’re sure that we do lots of things that our dogs find disgusting too!
Cleaning Up the Mess and Why It’s Important
Okay, it may be fun for your dog but fox poo is smelly and makes a mess of the house! What’s the best way to get rid of it?
Fox poo is quite hard to remove and often leaves a lingering smell. Many pet shops sell shampoo designed to remove fox poo from dogs – we’d recommend trying these first. You can also get odour eliminator that helps with the smell for minor messes. Anecdotally, some people say that tomato ketchup is a good way to remove fox poo! We can’t recommend unproven methods, but the option is there. No word on if it leaves your dog smelling like a chip shop though…
Oh, and we really recommend you do clean fox poo up immediately. Foxes carry a lot of intestinal parasites, many of which are infectious to dogs; hookworm in particular can be quite nasty, causing anorexia, diarrhoea and anaemia. Worming your dog regularly should prevent these parasites however. Poo also contains a lot of bacteria that could give your dog an upset tummy. The same holds true for people, so make sure you wash your hands after touching a dog covered in fox poo. You should especially prevent children, pregnant women and anyone immunocompromised from touching the dog until they are clean.
Preventing Mess in the First Place!
The best way to prevent your dog from rolling in fox poo is to avoid anywhere a fox may have been!
Easier said than done. Unfortunately, foxes are widespread, so this can be difficult, especially in the countryside. Ideally, keep your dog on a lead, so you can pull them away from anything smelly. Many dogs will start to lower their head and body before actually rolling, which is a good warning if you are fast enough!
If you notice them taking a lot of interest in something on the ground, encourage them to ‘leave it!’
Practising this command at home is essential (and will come in handy in a lot of other situations too) – you can do this by holding a treat in a closed fist and letting them smell it. Make no sound until they start to move away from it, upon which you should encourage them and give them a treat from the other hand. Repeat this until they understand that they should move away to receive a treat. You should then say ‘leave it’ or something similar at the moment they move away from the treat. Repeat this until they understand that ‘leave it’ means back away.
Start to practise with the treat on the floor under your shoe, and further away from you. Ensure that they do not get the treat if they dive for it! With a lot of repetition, your dog should learn the ‘leave it’ command and it can be used outside with poo and other nasty things they shouldn’t roll in.
Beyond this, there’s not a lot else that can be done to stop very naughty dogs rolling in fox poo!
However, as long as your dog is fully wormed and you are careful not to let people touch the poo, the danger is quite low. Still, fox poo is not pleasant, so try our above tips and please ask your vet for advice if you are struggling with commands.
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