Have you ever watched a dog lolling around in a field and wondered, “Why do dogs roll in grass every chance they get?”
My elderly Labrador Tess loves nothing better than a good roll around on her back.
She’ll roll on hard surfaces like concrete or paving stones. But like many dogs she especially likes to roll in grass. And she is not alone.
It isn’t unusual to see a dog rolling in grass. Many dogs roll in grass on a daily basis if given the opportunity. And look utterly blissful while they are doing it.
Others never seem to roll around on their backs at all. My younger Labrador Rachael rarely rolls.
So why do some dogs love to wriggle and squirm around on their backs? Are they trying to scratch an itch? Or is there some other reason behind it?
Actually, there are a number of possible answers to the question, “Why do dogs roll around in the grass?” Let’s take them one at a time.
Dogs That Roll To Change Their Own Body Scent
To the human nose, grass mostly just smells like, well, grass. But to a dog, one patch of grass may smell quite different to another.
A dog’s sense of smell is basically a superpower, especially when compared to ours. Scientists believe that their sense of smell is anywhere from ten thousand to one hundred thousand times as accurate as ours.
If the sense of smell were instead the sense of sight, researchers say, then what we could see at a third of a mile, a dog could see just as well from more than three thousand miles away.
So that may explain why your dog is drawn to grass that doesn’t seem to be anything special, from our limited human point of view.
Some grassy places may contain the scents and smells left behind by other animals, such as urine, for example.
And your dog may be rolling to cover himself in this scent.
Dogs That Roll In Poop
Even worse, you may have a dog who loves to roll in grass that other animals have pooped in.
My own Lab Tess really loves to roll in fox poop, which has a very strong smell indeed.
This is separate from her other grass rolling activities, where she lies right on her back.
When she “poop rolls” she tries to get the poop on her shoulder and the side of her neck and face.
This is typical of dogs that roll in poop or dead things.
Instead of squirming around on their backs, then tend to try and rub the stuff on their shoulder and the side of their face.
But why do dogs roll in poop and other nasty-smelling stuff?
Why Do Dogs Roll In Dead Animals And Poop
Why dogs like to cover themselves in such a strong smell is still unanswered. Even though we have some guesses, it’s difficult to pin down a scientifically proven answer. That would require knowing exactly what a dog is thinking!
You could argue that dogs roll in the urine of herbivores like rabbits or sheep in order to disguise their own scent as predators.
But that doesn’t explain why some dogs like to roll in the feces of other carnivores.
Nonetheless, a dog rolling in poop is not an unusual sight. Neither is the sight of the owner, begging him to stop.
Rolling To Tell A Story
Another reason why a dog rolls in poop may be that the dog is using the smell to convey information to other dogs in his family group.
A bit like saying “Hey, some foxes came past here yesterday.”
Wolves have been observed doing this, and tend to aim their face and neck at the stinky stuff, just like my Tess.
However, researchers still don’t know for certain all the reasons why even a wild dog, such as a wolf, rolls in smelly stuff. One suggestion is that they do this to make themselves more attractive to others in the pack!
Dogs That Roll To Smell Better
For a dog, changing his body scent may be especially desirable if he has been given a bath or been laying in a scent that he doesn’t like very much.
Sadly, he may prefer the smell of rabbit pee to that fancy shampoo you just bought for him.
It’s one of those mysterious topics we may never fully understand. But it could be as simple as your dog just thinking that he smells better his way than yours.
Rolling To Relieve Irritation
One thing you may suspect when you see your dog squirming around on his back is a nasty dose of fleas.
While it is possible your dog is rolling to relieve an itch, the symptoms of fleas are usually fairly easy to identify.
A dog with a flea infestation tends to mainly nibble around the base of his tail and scratch the back of his head with a back foot.
By all means, check your dog’s skin to make sure there is nothing irritating his back. But the chances are that he is rolling for other reasons.
Rolling To Help Loosen Dead Hair
Some dogs shed hair, a lot of hair. As this hair starts to come loose, it probably feels a bit uncomfortable.
Rolling on his back, especially in coarse grass, may help your dog to loosen some of this dead hair and hasten up the shedding process.
Your dog will bend his body this way then that, so he is rubbing himself on the grass. It’s a bit like being given a vigorous brushing.
Once the hair is rubbed out, your dog will most likely feel cooler and more comfortable.
The rolling and rubbing process also probably helps to ‘freshen up’ his coat, by getting some daily dust and grime out of his fur.
Why Do Dogs Roll In Grass? For A Massage?
We all know how nice it feels to be massaged. Tight muscles get loosened, and the end result can be both relaxing and invigorating.
When a dog rolls on his back on the ground, he arcs his body from side to side, giving those back muscles a really good massage against the firm ground.
He may prefer to do this on grass than on a really hard surface. This is simply because it softens the surface enough to make the experience pain free, but is still firm enough to get a good massaging effect.
Do Dogs Roll In Grass To Be Playful?
Another strong possibility is that dogs simply get feeling frisky and playful. I’ve seen my own dog roll happily around for several minutes, “talking” to herself and biting playfully at the grass.
Again, we can’t know for certain, because that would require being able to read a dog’s mind!
But just judging by the silly, happy expression that they tend to wear while rolling in the grass, playfulness may very well be a factor!
Is Rolling Dangerous?
Some of you may have heard that you shouldn’t let big dogs roll in case it twists their stomach.
Or you may be worried that rolling in feces will give your dog an infection.
The first thing to say here is that if you have a dog at risk from bloat, do talk to your vet about his enthusiasm for rolling. He’ll be able to advise you and put your mind at rest.
Does Rolling Cause Bloat?
Rolling might make it easier for a stomach to become twisted. The risk of twisting or torsion is associated with a condition called bloat, where the stomach becomes very distended.
Some dog trainers don’t teach big dogs to roll over as they are concerned about the risk of torsion.
This is a twisting of the stomach that can happen to dogs that “bloat.”
It is very dangerous, but is not something that happens to most dogs. It tends to happen to some large, deep-chested dogs.
While it probably makes sense to discourage a dog from rolling after eating a large meal, rolling doesn’t seem to be indicated as a risk factor in any of the current published studies on bloat.
So, if you have a dog that is at risk from bloat, talk to your vet about any concerns you have, and try not worry.
Does Rolling In Grass Or Poop Make My Dog Prone To Infection?
Fortunately, dogs tend to be very resistant to the common pathogens found in animal feces. They can often even eat these, let alone roll in them, without ill effects.
There is a small risk of your dog getting parasites, such as intestinal worms by licking the mess off his fur. So try to wash as much off as you can if he does this.
Some skin parasites, especially ticks, can be found in grass, particularly in areas frequented by sheep or deer.
So it makes sense to check your dog over regularly if rolling in grass is his thing. Use a preventative tick treatment to help keep ticks from attaching.
Artificial Grass For Dogs
If you’re concerned about your dog rolling in things he shouldn’t, you may be interested in knowing whether there is such a thing as fake grass for dogs.
And, as a matter of fact, there is. There are even several manufacturers of artificial grass for dogs, created specifically for dogs and their owners to get enjoyment from.
Of course, most of these contain antimicrobial agents to ward off bad smells. So your dog may not be quite as keen to roll in artificial grass.
But if he’s mostly doing it to scratch his back and aid with loosening shed hair, then he might really love it! And if your dog tends to be a digger or otherwise destructive, artificial grass may work out best for you, too, in the long run.
Why Do Dogs Roll In Grass — Summary
We don’t know for sure, but rolling on his back in the grass may loosen dead hair, give your dog a nice massage, relieve an itch, or just (in his view) make your dog smell better!
Some dogs roll to cover themselves in stinky stuff, and dogs that do this may be instinctively trying to communicate with other dogs, in the way that their ancestors did.
Whatever the reason, rolling is normally harmless fun and provides many dogs with a great deal of pleasure.
So what do you think? Why do dogs roll in grass?
Does your dog like to roll in grass? And why do you think he does it?
Share your thoughts in the comments box below!
Sources And Further Reading
- Tyson, P, 2012, Dogs’ Dazzling Sense Of Smell, NOVA
- Walker, J, et al. 1991. Comparison of Odor Perception in Humans and Animals
- Mech, L. D., et al. Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, And Conservation
- Blagburn, B, et al. 2009. Biology, Treatment, and Control of Flea and Tick Infestations. Small Animal Practice
- Monnet, E. 2003. Gastric Dilatation-Volvulus Syndrome in Dogs, Small Animal Practice
- Glickman, LT, et al., 1994, Analysis of risk factors for gastric dilatation and dilatation-volvulus in dogs, Journal of the American Veterinary Medical Association
This article has been extensively revised and updated for 2019.