Every dog owner has experienced it. You’re strolling along the dog park or a field, and your dog suddenly drops down and starts writhing in what appears to be ecstasy.
Your dog’s open-mouthed smile while doing a horizontal dance right up against the grass is a laughter-inducing sight (unless you just gave him a bath or that patch of grass he’s at is covered in poop, in which case it’s a scream-inducing sight). But what exactly is it about rolling around in the grass that gives dogs so much joy?
Reasons For Grass-Rolling Behavior
As much as we want to know why our dogs do weird things, we cannot know for sure what their motivations are. As long as we do not have dog mind-reading technology, it will remain a mystery.
However, scientists have come up with plausible theories on why dogs roll in the grass. Most of them have been gleaned from what is known about the behaviors of their ancestors, the wolves.
To mask their scent as predators
Before the advent of commercial dog food and being fed scraps from the human table, there was hunting. Dogs of the last few centuries may be increasingly domesticated, but their instincts for hunting and catching prey are still very much alive. Rolling around in the grass may be one sign of this.
Animals have a keen sense of smell. The predator uses this to track their prey. The prey uses this to recognize when danger is near.
If a rabbit smells a dog nearby, it’s likely it will bolt. But if that canine smell is masked by the innocent smell of grass, the rabbit’s warning bells go quiet.
Wolves rub themselves on grass and on the poop or carcass of dead animals in an effort to better hunt and catch their prey. Even if the closest thing to a hunt your dog experiences on a normal basis is diving for your socks in the dirty laundry basket, you can bet he still feels the need to mask his scent.
To share a scent with their pack
Another vestige from their wolf ancestry is the need to share information with their pack. Wild canids may find a unique smell that holds valuable information on their location or the presence of prey or predators nearby. What they do is roll around in it, and have the members of their pack smell it. Who knows, maybe they have some sort of discussion in dog language about what each smell means?
Dogs do not know that their human family members cannot appreciate the finer points of a unique grass smell, but they do it anyway. They want to share information with you to help you survive. Now isn’t that sweet?
Something to remember the next time your dog ruins his bath with a grassy rub-down.
To remove the smell on their fur
Imagine this: You just bought this amazing lemongrass-scented shampoo that’s all the rage in the fur parent scene. You give your dog a bath and take in the sweet but subtle smell that lingers in your dog’s fur.
You go out to the park, positive that the other dog parents will notice your dog’s new scent (you’ve already practiced your spiel about how lemongrass acts as a natural mosquito repellent). But the minute you let your dog loose, he heads to the muddiest, dirtiest part of the field and rolls all over it. What gives?
Humans might love the smell of dog shampoos, but the dogs themselves might not. Each dog has its own unique smell that is expressed by oil glands scattered on the surface of the body and in the anal sacs at the hind regions. This smell is an identifier, like how a name identifies a person. That’s why dogs who are meeting for the first time sniff each other’s butts.
When their natural smell is overpowered by a scent not usually associated with dogs, they may want to remove it. They roll on the grass in the hopes of rubbing it off. Even if takes a little bit off, at least their dog smell will be able to shine through.
To mark their territory
Dogs roll on the ground not just to transfer the scent of the environment to their fur, but to transfer their own scent to the environment. This is a dog’s way of saying “I’ve been here” or “This is mine”. It’s much like how male dogs pee on every vertical surface they can find.
If your dog stops at a certain spot to sniff intensely, it’s possible another dog has deposited his or her scent on it. The pheromones that are left on the surface convey information about that dog.
This particular reason for rolling on a surface doesn’t just work with grass. If you notice your dog rubbing himself on your new sofa, it’s because he’s marking it as his. So you better get ready to fight for your spot in front of the TV!
To cool down on hot days
On a hot day, it’s refreshing to lie down on cool grass. Humans know it, and dogs know it too!
Rolling on the grass helps dogs cool down after exercise and playtime. It’s much cooler than concrete, particularly when there is a smattering of dew on it.
This is one way that dogs cool down. The formal term for this behavior is conduction. Animals tend to lie down or sit up against a cooler object so their body heat is transferred.
It is important to take note of the signs that your dog is regulating its temperature. This means he is attempting to cool down because it’s getting too hot. Excessive panting, redness in the ears and mucous membranes, and increased body heat are all signs of overheating.
If you notice these signs, take your dog to a shaded area and allow him to roll on the grass to his heart’s content. Prepare water in a dish for him to drink. Give him time to relax and cool down before going back to exercise or playtime.
To scratch an itch
Your dog might be rolling on the grass because the green blades make for a great backscratcher. That goofy face he makes as he rubs his body all over it could be from the satisfaction of a scratched itch.
However, if your dog scratches incessantly, shakes his head often, and bites and licks himself all the time, it could be a sign of something more serious. Ditto if you notice fur loss in certain parts of the body, dry and flaking skin, and inflammation.
Pruritus is a fancy word for itching, and it is a symptom of many kinds of skin diseases. Top of mind would be tick, flea or mite infestation, bacterial or fungal infection, and allergies.
If your dog rolls on the grass with urgency, exhibits intense itching and has skin issues, take him to the vet.
Treating pruritus at home is discouraged because there are many possible reasons behind it. Drugs that solve one issue may exacerbate another. A veterinarian has the expertise and equipment to properly diagnose and treat your best friend’s skin problems.
To help remove excess fur
Shedding is a big headache for dog owners everywhere. While some dogs shed more than others, shedding is a normal occurrence that helps keep your dog’s coat shiny and new. Fur parents in temperate countries know that shedding is heaviest during spring and fall. This is so the fur cover matches the incoming season.
Your dog may have accumulated shed fur in its coat whid ch causes irritation and itchiness. Rolling on the blades of grass helps dislodge hairs.
If you think your dog is rubbing himself on the ground because he’s removing shed fur, give him a hand by brushing him regularly. Long-haired dogs will benefit from daily brushing, while short-coated dogs might be good with a weekly brushing. Using the appropriate brush for your dog’s coat makes a big difference in keeping them clean and healthy.
While shedding is normal, excessive shedding is not. Watch out for bald spots, rough and dry skin texture, and signs of itchiness. Take your dog to the vet to know what the problem is and how to treat it.
To play and relax
Sometimes, dogs just want to have fun. Dog owners and scientists alike agree that maybe rolling in the grass is just something that dogs enjoy. How do they know?
Just because dogs roll around in the grass during play. Exuberant rolling around, happily snapping at the grass while on their backs, and concurrent zoomies are signs that your dog is having fun.
Dangers Of Grass-Rolling Behavior
As we have seen, there are many possible reasons why dogs roll on the grass. But should we let them?
Grass and soil may harbor a lot of hidden enemies. Fleas, ticks, mites, bacteria, fungi may be present in the ground your dog is happily rolling himself on. Harmful chemicals and pesticides may be present. The dead carcass or poop your dog is trying to get the scent from may have worm eggs or other harmful microscopic invaders.
It’s hard to be absolutely sure that the ground you’re walking on has none of these things. So how can you protect your dog against the dangers hidden in the grass?
Use ectoparasite prevention and dewormers
First and foremost, make sure to practice regular ectoparasite protection measures and deworming. There are a variety of drugs available that will help deter infection of mites, ticks, fleas, and worms. Some are oral, others are topical. Some can protect your dog for two weeks, others last for up to three months.
This is particularly true if you regularly go on outdoor adventures with your dog. Whether it’s in the neighborhood dog park or hikes to the mountain, your dog is bound to get exposed. As they say, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure! Investing in regular ectoparasite prevention and deworming will save you money (and a lot of worrying) in the long run.
Thankfully, there are many products on the market today that are effective at targeting parasites. Consult your veterinarian on the best products for your dog, your lifestyle, and your budget.
Keep Your Dog Clean
Giving your dog a bath after a frolic in the grass can be helpful in washing off any chemicals and microscopic freeloaders that might be hanging on to your dog’s coat. It’s also a great way to remove mud, grass stains, or random smelly things your dog might have rolled over.
The frequency of bathing will depend on your dog’s lifestyle and tendency to get himself dirty. Just take note that bathing your dog too often may strip your dog’s coat off its natural oils. Using a gentle, dog-specific shampoo and spacing out baths can help prevent this.
In between baths, a good rub down using an appropriate comb or brushing tool will do. It helps dislodge any foreign material from your dog’s coat, as well as excess fur.
Strengthen Your Dog’s Immune System
Animals have a built-in system to protect their bodies against foreign invaders. The immune system is comprised of different cells that recognize pathogens and target their destruction.
One of the most important functions of the skin is related to immunity. It holds the front line in defending your dog against the outside world, so keeping it healthy is very important.
Proper nutrition is the most basic way to keep the skin barrier integrity intact. If your dog’s macronutrient and micronutrient requirements are met, not only is his skin resistant to breaking and able to heal quickly, he also looks healthy and beautiful. The body gets everything it needs to function, so it makes sure the protection is not just skin-deep.
Among the most important micronutrients to skin and coat health are essential fatty acids, particularly omega-3 and omega-6. Ensuring that appropriate levels are met can help up your dog’s defenses against the dangers hidden in the grass. Consult your veterinarian on available supplements for skin and coat health.