Why Do Dogs Smell After Going Outside?

stinky smelling dog after spending time outside

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It sometimes seems like your dog can smell like roses at the start of the day but after only a few minutes outside they end up smelling like…well not anything like roses. 

What’s going on here? Why do dogs smell so bad after going outside? 

Most dog odors are normal and not alarming. The usual explanations are sweat from running around and how a dog’s fur can quickly absorb outdoor odors. Still, it’s a good idea to be aware of smells related to health hazards and conditions like infected ears and impacted anal glands.

Of course, if your dog is anything like these pups then there’s probably no mystery as to why they stink: 


You’re probably not letting your dog jump around in the mud, so let’s take a closer look at what causes a stinky dog after outside time. 

What Kind Of Smells Are We Talking About?

Smell is one of the primary tools dogs use to navigate and interact with their surroundings, including other animals and humans. It is a fundamental element of every dog’s world.

Dog and human worlds collide when dogs come back inside, bringing their aroma with them. If a dog is healthy and nothing is amiss, the result is often a neutral, earthy musk that some people might even find pleasant and endearing. 

With mild stinkiness, it’s almost always something innocuous outside. Your nose simply acclimates to your dog over time, then readjusts to it when the scent confronts you in higher concentration back in the enclosed space of your home. 

Most people are familiar with musty ‘wet dog’ from getting caught out in the rain. But some owners occasionally end up nauseated to discover that something foul and disturbing has followed their dog home. This situation needs more immediate attention.

While your head was turned, maybe he or she encountered something nasty that dogs perplexingly love so much.  Stronger odors can be warning signs for health problems or that your furry friend is getting into something harmful.

We’re going to take a closer look at all these possibilities and what you can do about them!

Environmental Reasons for Outdoors Smells

There is an array of everyday environmental factors that make dogs stink after coming in from outside. Luckily, most of them are pretty harmless!

Ambient Odor

Especially in humid climates, moisture in the atmosphere activates the odor from natural bacteria and oils in a pup’s skin and fur that keep them healthy in proper balance. 

The moisture stink is pretty recognizable, so it’s easy to distinguish if your dog stinks due to rain, dew, splashing in puddles, ponds, lakes, or creeks.  

There could also be odiferous pollutants in the air that get trapped in your buddy’s fur especially if you live in an industrial or densely-populated area or near heavy road traffic.

Then there’s plain old dirt. This might seem like an obvious or straightforward one. But a major component of the ‘fresh air’ scent that’s so refreshing to take in on a nice day, actually comes from dirt. 

Specifically, the warm, metallic smell is a product of the organic compound geosmin in soil. Chemists at Brown University (yes, really) have been studying various proteins and enzymes that live in the dirt, metabolizing, or breaking down plant and other organic matter. Geosmin, the resulting slightly sweet earth smell, which scientists identified over a century ago, also exists in water as a by-product of blue-green algae.

This is commonplace outside substance can easily stick to soft coats during every pooch’s backyard antics. That means even quick walks can result in a stinky pup thanks to your dog’s coat absorbing ambient odors. 

Bugs, Skunks, and Other Sticky Sources

Plenty of dogs enjoy hunting down and even munching bugs outside, especially when left to wander the yard unsupervised. Stink bugs emit stench-causing chemicals from their glands to their exoskeletons and into the air when crushed or threatened. So if your dog is lucky enough to land one, you’ll probably be subject to a stink many people describe as similar to coriander and cilantro (but bad), sulfur and ammonia, or even rancid meat. 

Most everyone has experienced that eye-watering, ultra-potent cloud of skunk smell, at least at a distance. If Fido has had a stand-off with a skunk, it will be readily apparent. The magic stink ingredient in skunk spray that makes it so powerful and long-lasting is a selenium-containing compound called butyl seleno-mercaptan.

Know Which Smells Mean Danger

As baffling as it may be, many dogs are naturally drawn to the aroma of dead animals and feces. If your dog has engaged in the delightful pastime of rolling around on a corpse or some droppings, you’re not alone. 

But pay attention to your dog during walks. If this sort of wretched odor materializes after letting your dog loose in the yard, make haste to track down where they found the dung or body and get rid of it. These disgusting and unmistakable causes of odor can expose humans and dogs to dangerous, illness-inducing poisons, pathogens, pests, and parasites.

Trash smell of course, originates from whatever unholy cocktail of stuff has been sitting in the garbage bin. The typical putrid culprits are a combination of sulfur and nitrogen compounds, all of which can make your dog smell. Imagine a concoction of ammonia, rotting egg, cabbage, meat, sour fruit, and vinegar- surely not something you want near yourself, your dog, or your home.

Any of the above trash odor compounds are guaranteed to make your dog rank if he or she gets their paws on them. Make sure to securely pup-proof all rubbish, because the trashcan contains a plethora of substances and objects that can poison, injure, and kill dogs.

Bodily Factors

Just like humans, dog bodies are home to a whole microbiome and a host of natural body functions. These all depend on a healthy balance, but outdoor visits can enhance these smells. 

Body Chemistry

Wet dog smell is pretty much universal, emanating from the microorganisms like bacteria and yeast that set up shop on every dog’s skin and fur. Those microorganisms produce volatile compounds, some of which break free into the air after contact with water, while others cause chemical or biochemical reactions. This combination of interacting compounds conjures odors ranging from fruity, floral, nutty, and earthy, to medicinal, sulfurous, fecal, or mushroomy.

What if your dog still stinks to high heaven after spending chaperoned time outside during warm, sunny weather in short durations?

It’s possible the smell from skin and fur germs above or other bodily odors are intensifying with light, heat, and body movement.

Glands and Sweat

Dogs have scent glands called anal sacs that can be a way to mark territory or aid in passing hard stool. Your dog might be doing one or both of these outside, aggravating this gland’s odor.

The colloquial wisdom that dogs do not sweat at all is somewhat of a half-truth. They don’t sweat in the same areas or for the same reasons as humans, but they do sweat, especially around the paws. The merocrine glands in their paw pads are similar to human sweat glands. 

The apocrine sweat glands throughout dogs’ bodies don’t help them cool down, but rather function to help them identify each other through pheromones. This is why many owners notice a trademark salty sweat smell.

Wrinkles and Ears

Additionally, closed off and cavernous spots like ears and skin folds are particularly prone to germs and consequent smells, because they trap more dirt and moisture from the environment outside, breeding more bacteria.

Behaviors

There are also certain behaviors that can either cause some stinkiness on their own or signal an underlying stinky problem. Know what these behaviors are and what they mean to figure out where the scents might originate and how to get rid of them.

Signs of Itchy Butt

You take your dog outside, but they’re having a little trouble making a bowel movement. Later, you catch a whiff of something off and catch your dog butt-scooching. He or she is in all likelihood trying to relieve an impacted and uncomfortable anal sac, which can release a strong odor. If this is happening, consult your vet for help.

They can help express your dog’s anal gland which is as stinky as it sounds!

Scent Marking Activities

Studies on dogs have shown that canines use their natural scent for a variety of purposes that release strong smells. Dogs innately scent mark to claim territory or prey through urination, defecation, and glandular secretions such as ground scratching (remember those paw-pad glands?) 

Scratching usually occurs after doing their business or in the presence of food and items like dead animals, leaving behind scratch marks as a visual indicator and the smell from interdigital glands (between their toes). Don’t be surprised if a fit of rolling, tossing, rubbing, and ground-scratching gets some undesirable, yucky substances on the paws or triggers a sweaty feet smell reminiscent of worn socks.

Are Some Breeds More Likely to Get Stinky Outside?

Since wrinkles and the hollow shafts comprising dog hair catch a lot of smells outside, dogs with more wrinkles and fur can be a bit smellier after an outdoors adventure. 

That’s why floppy ears, the super-oily skin of the basset hound, and the skin folds of pugs, bulldogs, french bulldogs, and especially Chinese shar-peis need extra routine attention, especially after frolicking in the backyard. 

The same goes for the shaggy coats of cocker spaniels, yorkies, and all other ultra-furry or drooly breeds.

Why Does My Dog Play With Gross Stuff Outside?

Dogs use glandular smells on purpose to establish and maintain ‘property lines,’ home ranges, and dominance within packs and with rival packs. Scent marking discloses reproductive states and locates food or anything else they want to keep. 

They strategically place markings “in conspicuous locations, such as on rocks, plants and trail junctions.” In the wild, “defending food, resources, or territories” reduces fights with competitors and intruders. Likewise, dogs investigate each other’s scent markings and may attempt to cover them up with their own. 

If your dog has scratched, rubbed, or rolled on something filthy outside, their goal is not to assault your senses or bring messes back inside with them. In short, they are acting on an intuitive impulse to signal or respond to signals. Domestication does not erase dogs’ instinctive social and survival behaviors and they really just can’t help themselves!

Follow the Clues- Eliminate Stink

Though understandably mystifying to humans, pet dogs have a deep drive to leave their individual smell on locations and objects they find important. If something smells awry after you detect this type of territorial behavior like ground scratching or digging, promptly check the area they’re obsessing with for animal feces and urine (fox is a common one), or carcasses. 

Dogs can’t resist scratching and rubbing themselves all over these overpowering, odious stenches, so act quickly to keep your well-meaning canine away from them.

Look Out for Dog Health Issues and Hazards of Coming Home Smelly

Allergies and atopy in dogs can result in skin problems accompanied by excessive scratching and licking. If a spot is extremely irritated, dogs can scratch so much it breaks the skin and creates a vulnerability to infection from Malassezia yeast and staphylococcus pseudintermedius bacteria. 

Take your dog to the vet if exhibiting signs like “head shaking, licking, or rubbing the body or head against furniture, people, or walls,” biting at skin or fur, skin color changes and inflammation, bright red ears, patchy coat, or hair loss. In this case, the stink that heightens after coming back from the outdoors could be an allergy-related skin infection.

Signified by the tell-tale butt scratching, biting, or scooting across the ground, and sometimes a bad odor, an impacted anal sac needs professional attention to express it.

If you suspect your dog has ransacked the trash, immediately make sure they didn’t ingest something dangerous like toxic chemicals or sharp objects including bones. If your dog smells like it’s been in contact with feces or a dead animal, similarly observe him or her closely for signs of illness and don’t hesitate to seek prompt veterinary treatment when necessary.

How to Control Dog Odors from Outside

If you’re wondering ‘how can I make my dog smell better,’ the most effective treatment is common sense prevention. Keep all trash out of reach. Keep an eye on your dog during walks to avoid rolling on gross things, and try to keep your yard clean from droppings. Train your dog to obediently ‘leave it’ and ‘come’ if they have trouble ignoring smelly treasures during a walk. 

Stay Clean

Clean all your dog’s belongings on a regular basis, from toys and beds to clothes, collars, and harnesses. 

Routinely bathe and groom. AKC recommends bathing no more than once or twice a month. Know the appropriate brush and regimen for your dog’s coat type. There is a wide range of products like dry shampoos, wipes, odor control shampoo, and deshedding brushes that reach the undercoat.

Don’t forget to check up on those sensitive ears after contact with dirt and water.  This is crucial if your dog is an avid swimmer, as moisture buildup in the ears increases bacteria, odor, and risk of infection. Groomers and vets can help, but when cleaning your pet’s ears yourself, use the proper, gentle technique and a simple cleanser like Zymox as needed.

Stay Dry

Are you frustrated with a stubborn stink that persists or worsens after a bath? Rub your dog down with an absorbent towel next time to ensure he or she is getting sufficiently dry after washing. Remember to dry off a rain-soaked pup, too.

Treatment for Tough Stench

If your dog is already reeking, there are a few treatment options. Tomato juice is the tried-and-true method for banishing skunk smell. There are foods available for some situations that can help reduce dog odors. Your vet may be able to recommend or prescribe Chlorhexidine (an antiseptic), Miconazole (anti-fungal, anti-yeast), Phytosphingosine (skin protective lipids), Pramoxine (a soothing topical anesthetic).

What Not to Do

Always take caution when choosing something to apply topically to your dog, and consult a vet or professional groomer if you are uncertain.

Stay away from anything containing borax, hydrogen peroxide (especially inside dogs’ ears), vinegar, bleach, or coal tar. Essential oils (most notably tea tree oil), can make your home smell delightful and fresh, but they have absolutely no place anywhere near or on a dog or any pet due to their potential toxicity. 

We staunchly advise against any other household cleaners or deodorizers, and products intended for people. Always check the ingredient label, because even some dog-specific deodorizing products are too harsh and irritating, which could escalate the problem over time. 

Resist the temptation to over-wash your dog, as you don’t want frequent baths to strip away natural oils and dry out the skin. If your dog has a thick coat that benefits from a hair dryer, be careful in assuring that it’s always on the ‘cool’ setting.

A Final Note for Your Nose

Most dog owners can attest to the unmatched bonding and elation of walking side-by-side with your companion and letting him or her enthusiastically explore, sniff, and romp in the great outdoors. Inevitable moisture and dirt smells from beloved outside time are almost always mild and manageable with reasonable and responsible grooming. 

You love welcoming your best friend back into the house, but it can turn miserable when you dread putting up with a sickening scent that’s bound to attach to every surface and fill your home. That doesn’t have to be a permanent state of affairs. Always take medical symptoms seriously, keep up with preventative training, and pay attention to dog behaviors, hygiene, and environment. 

Hopefully, a little investigation will reveal the root of the problem, so you and your pup can be on your way to breathing easy again. We can’t guarantee that your fluffy family member will smell like roses, but maybe you’re one step closer now to a wholesome grass or hay fragrance at least.