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It’s that time of the day again. You pour some kibble for your four-legged child into their bowl and place it down. You turn away for a second and next thing you know it, your dog has gone wild, rolling around in their food.
What’s happening and why do dogs roll around in their food and treats?
There are many reasons why dogs roll around in their kibble, treats, or other food including scent masking, playing, territory marking, and simply because some dogs seem to enjoy it. Unless resource guarding is part of the rolling, there’s typically nothing worry about.
These are just a few of the possible motivations for your dog, but let’s take a look through your dog’s point of view to learn more about why they roll in their food!
Reason 1: Scent Masking
In the wild, the ancestors of dogs, wolves, had to hunt for their food. When hunting, stealth is a must. To stay hidden, the wolves would often roll in something with strong scents to hide their own scent from their prey. They usually use smelly stuff like rotting things, dead animals, or dung and roll around in it.
This is called scent masking or scent rolling. By rolling in something smelly, they are masking their own scent when close to their prey. Then, the prey animal wouldn’t notice the smell of wolves.
You can see this in action here:
How does this relate to your fur baby at home?
These instincts are still alive and well in the modern dog and the strong scent of the food could uncover the instinct. You might notice that your dog rolls in some foods rather than others. This could be because of how strong the scent of the food is. The wolves would choose the most stinky things, so it would make sense if your dog chose to roll in their really stinky kibble over foods that don’t smell as strongly.
Interestingly, scent rolling isn’t only for wolves and dogs. Other animals such as both wild and domestic cats and foxes are also known to do some scent masking every once in a while, for similar reasons but also different reasons like getting to know and understand new objects. Every animal has their own reasons for scent rolling or scent masking.
Of course, dogs that have a habit of doing this aren’t likely to limit their rolling to food and treats. Instead, they may decide that everything stinky is fair game and it can help explain why some dogs smell so strongly even after only a short time outside. If you’re not keeping up with them, they’ll take the opportunity to roll on anything stinky!
Reason 2: Resource Guarding
Resource guarding is like when a kid doesn’t want to share their snacks. For your dog, it’s when they don’t want to share certain things like treats or their favorite tennis ball. They defend their belongings (or resources) by growling or barking.
One of the clear signs of resource guarding is when your dog, who is normally sweet and loving, threatens to bite or attack when someone tries to take away the thing they’re protecting. In some cases, dogs might roll on their food to defend it from potential thieves.
You can see exactly what this looks like here:
It might make sense that your dog wouldn’t want to share what they see as theirs and in the wild, this instinct could make the difference between life or death.
But in the home where your dog’s next meal is just sitting in the pantry, it can cause big problems. It can especially dangerous for kids who might ignore the clear signals that dogs are sending or other pets that may bravely try to get a bite of their own.
Additionally, resource guarding can be mentally draining for your dog. Your dog might be feeling stressed by the thought of having to always protect their food. If it’s not managed, it can also lead to longer-term problems where dogs don’t like other dogs in general since they’re constantly seen as a threat.
Training and patience are the best tools against resource guarding. You may want to seek help from a trainer if you don’t know where to start. Resource guarding is no one’s fault, and you and your pup can work together to end it.
Reason 3: Rolling In Food For Playtime
Do you have a new pup who just thinks the world is full of toys? Or a big dog that looks like they like getting back massages from rolling in food? If your dog or puppy suddenly starts rolling around in their food, it might be because they want to play!
Sometimes, the sight and scent of food might be so beautiful to your dog, they can’t contain their excitement! It might be a burst of energy, or if you have a puppy, they might need an outlet for that unlimited energy battery.
Depending on breed, age, and other factors, dogs have different energy levels like people. Some may need more exercise and playtime than others. Doing some quick research about your dog’s breed can tell you a lot about their energy and possible activities to tire your dog so there will be no need for a food bath!
Another reason for your dog to play with their food is that they might feel bored. Like with people, dogs will try to find anything to keep themselves entertained, and that might mean rolling around in their food. Boredom might be caused by lack of things to do or brain stimulation. Brain (or mental) stimulation is something to get the brain working like puzzles. Even as people, if there is nothing to think about or do, we feel bored.
If you think your dog is rolling in their food because of excess energy or boredom, different feeding alternative such as different puzzle feeders are a great solution to making eating time a little more interesting and fun for your dog.
Puzzle feeders let your dog use their brains for problem-solving while also getting a little bit of that extra energy out. They can also outright eliminate the rolling in food habit since it will be much more difficult to do when you use a puzzle feeder. There are a ton of options out there, but one of my favorites is the simple (but still challenging) puzzle from Outward that you can check out on Amazon by clicking here.
Reason 4: It’s Fun
If your dog is rolling in their food and looks like they’re having the time of their life, that might just be the case!
Sometimes, there’s no other explanation for a dog to roll around in their food except that it’s fun!
Why do we do things we do for entertainment? Because it’s fun! While some people might find reading a book, watching a show, or going for a run fun, your dog might find rolling in their food their own version of fun. Even if it doesn’t always make sense to us, dogs can have a lot of fun with just about anything!
Reason 5: Marking Territory
Similar to scent masking, marking territory is another instinctual reason your dog might be rolling around in their treats or food. This is different from resource guarding because resource guarding includes aggressive behavior like snapping at your hands or low-pitched growling. Resource guarding is the act of actively defending their stuff.
Marking territory is like your dog putting a name tag on their belongings. It lets others know that that area and stuff in it belongs to someone else. The most common way dogs mark their territory that people know is by peeing on things. However, there are other ways for your dog to mark their territory, including scratching at carpet or even walls in some cases. Your dog may be marking their territory by spreading their scent on the food and the area surrounding the food.
Marking territory by rolling around is just a way for your dog to say, “Hey, I was here and this is mine, so stay away!” Like scent masking, other animals do it too, such as cats. Each of them do it in different ways and rolling around in their food is just one way dogs mark their territory.
Reason 6: Rolling In Kibble Feels Good On Your Dogs Back
It’s no mystery why dogs love a good head, back, or belly scratching; It feels great to them, especially when they can’t normally reach their own backs!
If your dog can find something to get to those impossible-to-reach spots, they’ll probably keep doing it every chance they can get. Depending on the texture of your dog’s kibble, your dog might have realized that rolling around in some pieces of dry kibble is the perfect back scratcher for that itch!
While most dogs will use not-so-subtle techniques like nudging your hand with their nose to encourage a petting session, other pups will simply take matters into their own hands by rolling on their food!
Reason 7: Sensory Stimulation
The smell, feel, and textures of the food or treats could also be a sensory stimulation to your dog.
Sensory stimulation is not only for dogs, but for almost all animals, including people. Sensory stimulations are things that can trigger or activate one or more of your five senses: seeing, touching, hearings, tasting and smelling.
For example, rattles are sensory stimulations for babies, giving them a object to activate their sense of hearing. In this case, your dog’s food could be a sensory stimulation for their sense of touch and smell when rolling around in their food. They might also like the sound of the dry kibble moving around the floor.
Sensory stimulation is just one type of enrichment, a way to stimulate certain aspects to have happy and healthy animals, in this case, dogs. All animals need these stimulations to keep their natural mental and physical abilities sharp. Other types of enrichment include brain stimulation, as mentioned before, social stimulation, and food enrichment. Trying different enrichment activities with your dog can be fun and a great way to get your dog’s brain moving.
Reason 8: You Could Be Encouraging Your Dog To Roll In Food
When we see our dog doing something strange, it’s normal to laugh! But what may seem like a regular laugh or a nice little pet to a person might be much more to your dog.
Laughing and petting a dog after doing something is positive reinforcement, something that encourages the behavior. Positive reinforcement is often used to train dogs. For example, if your dog sits after giving the “sit” command and you give them a treat, that is positive reinforcement.
However, it can also encourage other behaviors if you’re not careful and positive reinforcement can explain everything from dogs ignoring you after a vacation to their preference for sleeping on your face!
When your dog sees you smiling and laughing at, praising, or petting them after rolling around in their food, they might think, “Wow! They must love when I roll around in food as much as I do!” It’s likely your dog will roll in their food or treats again because they saw your excitement as praise for the behavior.
Rolling In Food Probably Isn’t Related To Sharing The Scent
One of the most popular explanations for the habit of rolling in food is related to the idea that your social dog (and their wolf relatives) are trying to share a scent with their packmates.
The idea goes like this: When your dog finds an especially interesting smell they decide to roll in it so that when they get back to their pack all their canine friends will know that there’s something interesting nearby.
However, as canine psychology professor and neuropsychological researcher Stanley Coren points out, this doesn’t actually happen in the wild and it probably doesn’t happen in your home either. While dogs are social creatures, they’re rarely willing to share what they find and instead it’s more likely that they’ll just chow down on whatever they find.
Should I Be Worried?
If your dog rolls in their food, you’re not alone! Rolling in food or treats is not an uncommon situation other dog owners face. Unless your dog is resourcing guarding, it’s likely that there’s nothing to worry about
How to Discourage the Behavior
Seeing your dog rolling around in their food might be cute and funny, but it can also make a big mess or your dog stinky and dirty.
Let’s take a look at what to do to discourage your dog from rolling in their food.
Don’t Provide A Positive Response
Connecting to the idea of positive reinforcement and encouraging the behavior of your dog rolling around in their food or treats, your reaction matters. If you don’t want to reinforce the behavior, try not to give a positive reaction to it. In other words, remove the praise from the action. Dogs will most likely repeat a behavior after getting a good reaction from it, so if there is no reaction, the behavior will also likely stop. Your loving dog will always try to please you so any sign of approval from you will encourage a behavior. Maybe praise them if they don’t play with their food!
Find Different Ways of Feeding
As mentioned before, mental stimulation is great for a dog and food can make it really fun! However, puzzle feeders aren’t the only feeding method to stop your dog from rolling in their food. Keeping your dog entertained could keep them from getting the idea to roll in their treats. Different methods include hiding treats or pieces of kibble in a crumpled towel for your dog to sniff out, freezing some food in water on a hot day, or try teaching some new tricks while using kibble as a reward!
Don’t Punish Your Dog For Rolling In Food Or Treats
While it is important to discourage certain behaviors, it is never okay to punish your dog. Your dog doesn’t know what’s acceptable and what isn’t, but through proper training, your dog can learn how to happily live and learn with you.
Punishing your dog will only lead to fear from your pup. Many people think that dogs are naturally aggressive and that it’s important to “show ‘em who’s boss,” but Dr. Coren, the dog psychologist mentioned before, broke down the results from a study and the psychological effects of punishment. The results showed that punishing through physical contact like hitting dogs caused 43% of the dogs to be more aggressive.
Found in the same article, instead of physical punishment, a corrective sound like, “schhtt,” caused the lowest percentage of aggressive responses of 3% of the dogs. So, dogs will most likely respond to a corrective sound better than to a punishment.
While it is our mission to strengthen your understanding and bond with your pup, every situation is unique! If you’re still concerned about your fur baby, don’t be afraid to ask your vet. It’s their job to make sure you and your dog are healthy and happy together. No question is a bad question and asking is never a waste of time. It’s better to be safe than sorry so if you want to know if anything is wrong (or perfectly normal) about your dog’s behavior, reach out to your vet.