Why do dogs roll in fox poo?

Learn about dogs
Written by Dr Andrew Miller MRCVSDr Andrew Miller MRCVS is an expert veterinary working in the field for over 10 years after graduating from Bristol University. Andy fact checks and writes for Pure Pet Food while also working as a full time veterinarian. Pure Pet FoodPure Pet Food are the experts in healthy dog food and healthy dogs featured in media outlets such as BBC, Good Housekeeping and The Telegraph. Working with high profile veterinary professionals and nutritionists, Pure Pet Food are changing dog food for the better. - Our editorial process

I’m willing to bet that every dog has had their day where they stopped, dropped, and rolled all over something stinky while on a walk. It’s usually some sort of poo too, and fox poo is perhaps the worst culprit. Nobody wants to deal with a dog that stinks to high heaven and we certainly don’t want the smell lingering in our cars or homes, and yet your pooch usually looks utterly thrilled at their achievement. But why do dogs roll in fox poo, and is there anything we can do to stop dogs from rolling in stinky stuff?

Why do dogs roll in fox poo?

No one knows for certain why dogs roll in fox poo, but many agree it is a perfectly natural behaviour no matter how unsanitary. There are a few theories about why your pooch might have a penchant for poo too.

A cunning disguise

The most popular theory for why dogs roll in fox poo is that it’s an instinct left behind from their days as wild hunters. It’s believed that dogs like to roll in poo the same way wolves do, as a method to disguise their own smell.

Discover delicious food your dog deserves

Learn more

The strength of this theory comes from the fact canines are specifically interested in the smell of their prey, and are particularly drawn to the scent of their urine and poo. The idea is that if your dog rolls in a prey animal’s poo, it should make them smell like that animal instead, which allows them to sneak up closer before their prey realises they’re there. It makes sense since if you’re trying to hunt an animal, you don’t want them to get a whiff of wolf and run off.

Wolves and dogs have also been seen rolling on dead animals too, (yuck!) which might be for the same reason, trying to mask their scent with the smell of a less dangerous animal.

The problem is, foxes aren’t usually considered prey, so there must be a few other factors influencing your pup’s desire to smother themselves in smells. For example, some studies have seen wild dogs and young wolves rub themselves on other dead dogs and wolves. Maybe it’s to let them blend into that dog’s pack? Or to make them seem bigger by smelling like a mature animal? At the moment, there’s not enough research to explain exactly why they do it.

Interestingly, most canine species rub the stinky stuff onto the same areas of their body too, focusing on their neck, shoulders, and back. If your dog has rolled in fox poo before, you’ll know the strange rollicking and rolling they do to spread the stink all over their back, but they definitely neglect to cover their tummies in poo. Again, no one really knows why.

Show and tell

Another theory to explain why dogs roll in fox poo is that it’s a way of transporting the smell home to their pack. But why would they need to perform this smelly show and tell?

Well, it could be a method to let their packmates sample the smell from them so that they can follow the scent trail back to where the smelly treasure was found.

Alternatively, it could just be a way of your pooch showing off. Your dog might roll in poo to prove to their packmates that they were outside exploring and made a great discovery while on their travels. In other words, it’s the doggy equivalent of holiday snaps.

Pungent perfume

Perhaps a less exciting theory but definitely the simplest is that dogs roll in fox poo just because they like the smell.

Fox poo might smell awful to us humans and we certainly have no desire to rub it all over our bodies, but we do spray perfumes on our necks instead. We use all kinds of smelly shower gels, deodorants, and sprays that appeal to our own sense of smell, so maybe your dog just delights in the smell of eau de fox and wants to make that their signature scent.

Some animal behaviourists wonder if some dogs get a hit of dopamine from rolling in poo, which would make the gross habit seem even more fun and rewarding. (For your dog, at least.)

You have to remember that dogs don’t see the world like we do. Not only is a dog’s sense of vision different to ours, but it is not their dominant sense either. Instead, your pooch smells the world. A dog’s sense of smell is somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 times better than ours. So while we can’t see (or smell) why they would be so interested in fox poo, to them, the stench could be as fantastic as Mr Fox himself.

This could link back to the theory of dogs masking their smell too. You’ve probably noticed how your dog tends to roll around the rug, grass, or anything they find after they’ve had a bath. This isn’t just a release of nervous energy, it can be to try and rub some scent back onto themselves since their own smell has been scrubbed off in the wash. Your pooch could be rolling in smelly things to try and give themselves a scent that is more appealing or natural to them, rather than the blueberry or baby powder scent of the shampoo you liked so much.

What does fox poo look like?

Gross as it is, you might want to take a look at whatever your dog was rolling in to see what animal the poo belongs to. If it’s fox poo, it will look quite like dog poo but it is usually much darker in colour and has twisted, pointy ends. It will also smell very pungent and musky, a typical “fox” smell that you cannot miss once you’ve smelled it.

Is fox poo bad for dogs?

Yes, fox poo can be bad for dogs. If they roll in poo and lick it off, they can ingest whatever is inside it. Plus, some dogs will even eat fox poo which means they will pick up anything lurking inside it.

Is eating fox poo bad for dogs?

For pooches, rolling in the stinky stuff just isn’t always enough. Some dogs will eat poo they find lying around, and eating fox poo is bad for dogs because it puts your pup at risk of catching any diseases and parasites the fox could be carrying.

If your dog eats fox poo, there is a chance they could catch:

  • Lungworm

  • Roundworm

  • Hookworms

  • Tapeworm

These worms can cause infections that can even pass from animals to humans, such as Echinococcosis and Toxocariasis.

What do you do when your dog rolls in fox poo?

If your dog has already done the deed and rolled in fox poo, there’s not an awful lot you can do except wash it off. You could carry some dog-safe wet wipes with you on walks to clean your pup up before they have to get back into your car or home. Otherwise, if you have nothing else to hand, you could improvise and try to get the worst of it off with whatever you find nearby, like some moss, but you might just end up rubbing it around.

If you have a bottle of water in the car, you could use this to give your dog a makeshift shower before they get in, or you can use the hose outside in the garden if possible.

Otherwise, you just have to tough it out until you can dump your dog in the bath and give them a thorough wash. Make sure you use a gentle shampoo that is designed especially for dogs and give them a scrub to remove any traces of poo from their fur and get rid of that manky musky smell.

How do I stop my dog from rolling in fox poo?

Having good recall or a strong “leave it” command should help if you want to stop your dog rolling in fox poo. If your dog is off the lead and has been interested in one spot for too long and you suspect they’re about to drop and roll, call them back to you. Hopefully, they should look up and come back.

Meanwhile, the “leave” command will tell your dog to ignore anything that they shouldn’t go near. This could be anything from a dropped sandwich, to roadkill, litter, or poo, anything at all you don’t want your dog to eat or roll in or pick up.

If they approach anything they shouldn’t, give them a firm “leave!” and guide them away. If your dog is trained to understand the command, they should obey and follow you on your way. Having them on the lead will also help because you can shorten the lead and prevent them from getting too close, and use it to gently coax them away.

Finally, you should also check your garden for fox poo and remove it. You should be regularly checking and removing dog poo from your garden anyway, so while you do that, keep an eye out for any other poo from animals like cats and foxes and safely dispose of that too so there is none in the garden for your dog to find and roll in.