The Dogcharmer: Pugsley

For dogs, the stronger the scent the better the smell

—Courtesy Olivia D'Amato

Dear Dogcharmer:

I had a question regarding my dog Pugsley. He likes to roll in disgusting things, other dog’s poop and other gross stuff, when he’s outside. Can you please help me understand why he would do this? Any advice would be really appreciated.

Thank you,


Dear Olivia,

You’re not alone! To us “two-leggeds,” it seems unfathomable that given the opportunity, most dogs at some point will roll in something so disgusting that it’s hard not to retch while trying to bathe them. In humans, our sense of smell comes from about 5 million olfactory cells, and is of course important, but one of the least important ways we have of learning about the world. For our four-legged companions, it is by far their most important tool for knowledge about the world.

Olivia, Pugsley probably has about 150 to 200 million olfactory cells, and knows who you touched, what you ate, and what kind of environment you were in when you come home and he smells the cuff of your pants. That’s why Mark Twain said, “If dogs could talk, nobody would own them.” So why would such a keen sense of smell revel in what we consider horrendous? Because in the great majority of cases, to a dog, it’s not good or bad, it’s the stronger, the better. Better because of all the information it yields. When Pugsley smells the fire hydrant that another dog peed on, he knows the age, sex, and health of the dog that peed.

But why roll in disgusting stuff? Blame his ancestor, the wolf. Wolves, to this day, when hunting will gladly roll in the carcass of a dead sheep to disguise their scent, enabling them to possibly get closer to other live sheep for the kill. I believe what’s left of this wolf instinct for our domestic dog is just “a feeling.” He gets the right smell and it lights up a piece of his brain: “It just feels right to roll in this odiferous loose turd!” I doubt there’s any cognizant intent to disguise himself to hunt for dinner. Dinner’s on the kitchen floor when he gets home after this walk. My Pharaoh hound Cheetah-Ann sliced a three-inch gash in her neck rolling on rotten tuna in a fragmented can, and my search dog Mike rolled on some ripe feces, making me late for a training appointment with Mr. Tennis, John McEnroe.

To paraphrase some bumper stickers — stuff happens. As the parole officer said to his client, “Keep your nose clean!”


The Dogcharmer


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