Ever notice a dog rolling in grass and ask yourself, WHY? Much like when answering "why do dogs eat grass," most experts believe there are several possible reasons as to why dogs engage in this activity.
Inherited from Wolves
One theory is that the need to roll in grass (or anything that has a strong smell, for that matter) is inherited from dogs’ wolf-like ancestors. "When a wolf encounters a novel odor, it first sniffs and then rolls in it, getting the scent on its body, especially around the face and neck," says Pat Goodmann, research associate and curator of Wolf Park in Indiana. "Upon its return, the pack greets it and during the greeting investigates the scent thoroughly. At Wolf Park, we've observed several instances where one or more pack members has then followed the scent directly back to its origin."
Perhaps, then, your dog is rolling in the grass because he smells something interesting and wants to bring home a sample so that you can check it out, too.
Getting Rid of Unwanted Smells
Does this sound familiar? After giving your dog a bath, he or she immediately darts for the door and looks for something to roll around in (often grass or the dirtiest spot outside). Just because you think something smells wonderful doesn't mean your dog will agree. “In fact, the canine nose is so much more sensitive than ours that what smells good to us can be overpowering and irritating to a dog,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, author and veterinary advisor with petMD. Maybe your dog is trying to get rid of some of that post-grooming, heavily-perfumed smell when he rolls in the grass after a bath.
Every dog is different, so try out various grooming products until you find a scent that you can both appreciate or settle on an odorless shampoo and no doggy-perfume. If that doesn’t work, keep your dog away from the grass until he’s dry since he may be rolling in the grass to rub off the residual water from his bath.
Alleviating a Bad Itch
Your dog's need to roll in the grass may also be an indication of a health issue that is causing itching. Common problems include skin allergies, external parasites (fleas, ticks, mites, etc.), and skin infections. As Dr. Coates puts it, “Dogs can scratch most places on their body with their paws or teeth, but their back is a hard place to reach.” Rolling in the grass could be the equivalent of giving themselves a good back scratch.
If your dog seems to be itchier than normal, have him examined by a veterinarian to identify the underlying cause, and, if you haven't already done so, put your dog on an effective flea and tick preventive regimen.
A constant need to roll in the grass could also be a sign of an obessive compulsive disorder. Coates defines an obsessive compulsive disorder as a “normal behavior that is done with such frequency or intensity as to become a problem.”
The solution? "Keep your eyes open for things that excite your dog's nose, and before Rover's rolling in ecstasy, call him back to your side," says Dr. Sofia Yin, veterinarian and animal behaviorist. "Then keep him engaged in fun games and rewards around you so that he forgets the potential stinky fun elsewhere. While the training time for a good recall makes this solution sound tedious, the time saved on needless baths makes the effort easily worthwhile."
Is Rolling in the Grass Dangerous?
It's not the rolling that is dangerous; it's all the stuff that may be lurking in the grass (or even the grass itself) which could pose a risk. Some lawns are treated with fertilizers, pesticides, and herbicides that may be poisonous for dogs. Portions of grass plants—particularly the sharp awns (seed-heads) found on some tall grasses—can be inhaled, lodge under an eyelid, or sometimes even penetrate intact skin. Fleas and ticks, other critters that may sting or bite, and disease-causing bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other potential pathogens can also hide in the grass.
Of course, we’re not recommending that you keep your dog out of the grass completely. Just use your judgment to determine where and when a good roll in the grass is appropriate and do your best to prevent the behavior when it is not. Also, be sure that your dog is on an effective flea and tick preventative and that he is up to date on his vaccines. Finally, if you sense that something is wrong with your pet, don't delay. Bring him to a veterinarian immediately.