Sarah's Blog

You have to be a dog…

Do you ever look at your dog and think, “I wonder what it’s like to do that?”

Now, if you having bad thoughts, that’s your problem….. I’m talking about rolling in the grass here, nothing more unsavoury!

When I watch my dogs rolling (very usually, in wet mud first, then in dried leaves… sort of the canine equivalent of tarring and feathering), I have genuine envy. They look so full of joy… their little furry (leafy!) faces grinning as they twist back and forwards, smothering themselves in the heavenly aromas that only they can detect, and smothering themselves in it. I’m not talking about rolling in something smelly here, such as eau de fox poo or dead bird cologne. No, I’m talking just rolling in the lovely fresh grass. It’s such an uncomplicated behaviour that clearly brings instant happiness. Then that leap back up onto their feet (no scrambling and needing a hand up for them) and that shake, that full body roll. I can practically feel it.

So, I’ll tell you a secret. I tried it once. Yes, I’m not ashamed to say it. Because in telling you, I’m able to save you having any thoughts of trying it yourself. It turns out that the human body is not designed for such a thing. The sticks lodged in my hair were one thing, the bruises all over were another. Apparently, rolling in the grass (like a dog anyway) over the age of 11 is just not as fun as it looks if you have two legs rather than four.

So why is it so pleasurable for dogs? Well, in my mind, nature rarely makes any behaviour pleasurable unless she wants the animal to repeat it. Just think about eating (oh, and ‘reproduction practise’ of course). It’s pretty obvious why those two things are made to be highly rewarding – and therefore why animals are motivated and driven to work for them and to repeat them as often as possible!

So why would repeating a behaviour like rolling be useful? How might it give a dog an advantage? Of course, it could be to do with scratching those itches. Maybe even parasite control. But my guess is it’s all to do with scent. Because not only is the dog getting covered in the delicious scent of the grass and earth as it rolls in the park, it’s also leaving its own unique olfactory ‘business card’ behind too – in the form of an invisible a patch of scent information which is probably so specific that other dogs can divine the dog’s gender and sexual status, it’s health and identity and maybe even how long ago the dog was there too. Most of this will remain a mystery to us, but is probably as blatant as a new text message on the screen of sniffs to our dogs.  

So, next time you watch your dog rolling about in the grass, take a leaf out of my book (but not your hair) and soak it up vicariously – it’s much more enjoyable.

Oh, and if you’ve ever wondered about how dogs might use scent to communicate their intentions and emotions to each other then you might like to check out my special hour-long online seminar, presenting my brand new thoughts just on this topic: Sarah’s scent communication in dogs online lecture