We Asked A Veterinarian: Why Do Dogs Rub And Roll On Carpet?

young Jack Russell Terrier rolling on carpet inside
Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/joseph-menicucci-dvm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Joseph Menicucci, DVM </strong> </a>

Dr. Menicucci is a Colorado-based veterinarian with well over a decade of clinical experience.

Picture of <a href="https://notabully.org/author/joseph-menicucci-dvm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Joseph Menicucci, DVM </strong> </a>

Dr. Menicucci is a Colorado-based veterinarian with well over a decade of clinical experience.

For a lot of dog owners, many of the things their beloved pups do can seem like quite the mystery. Even the things they do every day can sometimes occur at seemingly random times and in random places.

One of those common dog behaviors is rolling, and while it is a normal behavior, we may see them roll on (or even in) some unusual places. Carpets and rugs can be one of the most popular “unusual” places for a dog to roll around on and it’s a question I regularly get from clients during in-home training sessions in Colorado Springs.

So what’s going on here? We sat down with one of Not A Bully’s Advising Veterinarians Dr. Joseph Menicucci and here’s the quick answer we came up with:

Dogs primarily roll and rub on carpets to alleviate itchiness and this behavior lets them scratch hard to reach spots. While having an itch is normal for dogs, if the behavior is suddenly increasing in frequency it could be related to allergies, environmental irritants, or parasites like fleas and ticks.

Additionally, dogs may rub on carpets to express uncomfortable anal glands or to release excess energy. Anxiety or fear can also prompt this behavior as a way for dogs to soothe themselves or dispel nervous energy. Less commonly, dogs may rub on carpets to mark their scent.

Addressing the underlying cause—whether it’s medical treatment for parasites, managing allergies, or providing more exercise- is the path to changing this behavior in most cases. 

That’s the quick answer but we’ll take a much closer look to help you understand which explanation makes the most sense for your pup and what you can do about it. Let’s get started!

Reason #1 – They Are Itchy

This is the most likely reason that your dog is rubbing themselves on the carpet.

Just like people, dogs get itchy too. While we can use our hands, fingers, and nails to help scratch that itch, our dogs only have their paws and teeth, both of which aren’t very good at scratching an itch!

While the cause of the itchiness can be anything from allergies to something brushing against the dog’s skin to cause sensitivity, rolling on the carpet is a great way to help alleviate that itch no matter what the initial cause is.

If your dog is rubbing a specific body part, such as their face, top of their tailbone, shoulder, or general back area against the carpet, it’s even more likely that they are just trying to satisfy the itch in those hard-to-reach places.

If your dog is rolling on the carpet only during certain times of year, such as spring or fall, then it could be due to itchiness from a seasonal allergy, too.

How To Fix It:

Occasional rolling to satisfy an itch isn’t usually something to worry about, and is a normal behavior in many dogs.

However, if your pup rolls to the point of causing friction burns, if they repeatedly do it after eating certain things or being around certain things, or if your carpet is starting to feel the brunt of the rolling, then it’s a good idea to try and figure out the root cause of the itchiness.

Your veterinarian can help with this! Depending on the suspected cause of the itchiness (food, environment, or otherwise), your vet can help you set up ways to narrow down what might actually be causing the itchiness.

Elimination diets, switching to organic or plant-based fabrics and cleaning supplies, or removing certain air fresheners are all ways in which your vet might have you address the itchiness in your pup.

Some vets may even be able to do more specific testing to figure out potential allergens for your dog.

Reason #2 – They Have A Parasite

Parasites can be common in dogs, even in the most hygienic households. Fleas, ticks, and mites are also possible parasites that can cause itchiness in dogs.

While other causes of itchiness aren’t usually that big of a concern, itchiness due to parasites is something that usually needs addressed immediately.

Rolling on the carpet may be your dog’s way of trying to alleviate an itch caused by the parasite, or an attempt to remove the parasite completely (especially if they are only rubbing a specific body part such as their face against the carpet).

If your pup is rubbing only their butt along the carpet, it may be due to an internal parasite such as a tapeworm or roundworm.

How To Fix It:

If you suspect that your dog is rolling on the carpet to try and help with an itch caused by a parasite, it’s important to do a thorough examination of your dog to try and locate the parasite. Veterinarian Dr. Menicucci adds that “regular parasite control measures, such as flea and tick preventatives, and critical and can help prevent problems from occurring in the first place.”

Depending on your dog’s size and coat type, this can be difficult and may require the use of a flea comb and using your hands and fingers to brush aside fur.

Even if you do not have visual confirmation of a parasite on your pup, redness, rashes, hair loss, black spots, and crustiness can all be signs that a parasite is present.

If the infestation is severe, you may need to do a chemical bath or even have your vet provide stronger treatments.

If you are unable to determine what type of parasite your pup has, or if your pup is displaying signs of illness like lethargy, diarrhea, or bleeding, it’s important to get them to their veterinarian as soon as possible.

Reason #3 – They Are Trying To Express Their Anal Glands

While it can be gross to think about, our dogs have sacs around their rectum that secrete mucous and allow them to smoothly pass stool.

Passing stool is generally enough pressure on the glands to help them release, but if your pup is constipated, has loose stool for an extended period of time, or has had previous issues with impaction, they can have trouble releasing the fluids from those glands and it can cause intense itchiness or even pain around the rectal region.

To try and release the fluids from the glands, your dog may rub their butt around on the carpet. The pressure from the rubbing and the texture of the carpet can sometimes cause them to release, but it can also cause friction burns and potential tearing of the rectum (not to mention it can lead to a stinky carpet!).

How To Fix It:

Rubbing their butt on the carpet can be due to a few different reasons for a dog, but an anal gland issue is one of the more common ones. Dr. Menicucci points out that “other possible causes can include irritation or infection and your veterinarian can help you determine the exact cause for your dog.”

Sometimes the dog can release the built-up fluids with enough rubbing and pressure, but many times their owner will have to step in and help.

Manually expressing anal glands can be quite messy and potentially dangerous (to both dog and human) if done improperly, so unless you’ve received training from an experienced groomer or veterinarian (both of which can express anal glands), it’s best to schedule an appointment to get them expressed professionally.

Reason #4 – They Smell Something On The Carpet

In some cases, your dog may be rolling on the carpet to mark their scent on it, but because the carpet has something that smells good on it.

Dogs have incredibly powerful noses, and they often smell things that we don’t.

There could be remnants of food odors on the carpet, scent from another animal, or some other pleasing smell that your dog wants to cover themselves in.

Even if we can smell the carpet and it doesn’t smell appealing to us, our dogs may feel very differently!

How To Fix It:

If you spill something on your carpet or rug, it’s important to use the appropriate cleaner to remove all residue.

Again, even if we can’t see or smell the mess, our dogs likely can! The fibers on carpets and rugs often hold onto odors, and need specific enzyme-based cleaners to remove them.

If your dog is still rolling on the carpet even after you’ve cleaned the mess up, it’s likely there is still some kind of residual odor left in the fibers.

Sometimes this may dissipate with time (or the dog may become bored with it), but other times you may need to do a more thorough cleaning.

Reason #5 – They Are Anxious Or Fearful

Many new dog owners (and even some experienced ones) may not always be familiar with dog language and communication styles.

Dogs rely heavily on body language to communicate, and they often perform behaviors that hold a different meaning in human language. This can create quite the miscommunication and confusion between dog and owner!

When your pup is rolling around on the carpet, it’s important to look at their entire body and the situation that led up to them rolling around. Dogs who are fearful or anxious may display appeasement behaviors such as rolling on their backs or stomachs, lip licking, tucking their tails underneath them (even while upside down on their backs), or even urination and defecation as they are laying there.

Did your pup roll over on the carpet immediately after you yelled at them for something? Or after they became frightened by a loud noise near you? It’s likely they are saying “I mean you no harm!” by rolling onto their backs. They may do this even if we did not intentionally mean to scare them.

This reason is especially likely if they are also avoiding eye contact with you, making very small or no movements, and they just generally have a lot of tension within their body.

Alternatively, some dogs who are fearful or anxious may also increase the rolling around on the carpet as a way to “get out” that nervous energy they are feeling.

These movements are often erratic and it can be difficult to redirect the dog to a different activity.

How To Fix It:

If you’ve got an anxious or fearful pup, it’s important to be mindful of your actions when you are around them.

Yelling at, hitting, or physically punishing our dogs does no good, and can actually increase or escalate fear behaviors.

Using positive reinforcement and science-backed training techniques can help your dog build their confidence, and also create a better bond with you.

This means less rolling on the carpet when they get anxious!

Reason #6 – They Have Too Much Energy

Watching our pups run around while they have the zoomies is one of the most entertaining parts of being a dog owner! But did you know that dogs can get the “zoomies” in other ways, too?

This includes rolling around erratically on the carpet, or repeatedly and aggressively rubbing their face or shoulder into your rug. Zoomies can be caused by excitement, happiness, as a displacement or avoidance behavior, and, most often, as a way to release excess energy.

If your pup would rather roll around on the carpet then run around the yard, then it could be they just have a little too much energy and have decided that rolling is the best way to displace it. You might have seen this behavior when you returned home after a long day at work!

How To Fix It:

As long as this type of behavior is happening infrequently, you do not need to fix this type of behavior as it’s just a way for your pup to release some pent up energy.

If it happens frequently or is due to your pup wanting to avoid doing something, you may need to do a little training. Ensuring that your dog has plenty of things to do to release their energy (both mental AND physical) will help reduce any inappropriate zoomie rolls on your carpet.

Training can also help your dog learn to control their energy and actively seek out alternative ways to release that energy without you needing to redirect them. A local trainer can also help teach your pup about different ways to express their needs and develop better frustration tolerance.

Reason #7 – They Are Marking

In addition to urine and feces, dogs also rely on their general body odors to “leave a message“, and rubbing on objects is one way in which a dog may mark something as “theirs”.

Rubbing their face, butts (they may even poop on the carpet!), or backs on a rug or carpeted area could be your pup’s way of marking that area as their own.

This is especially true if you have multiple animals (not just dogs) in your home, or if you’ve recently acquired your dog and they are making themselves at home.

In some cases, a particularly comfortable rug (like many of the faux fur or shag carpets) may also entice your dog into marking it as their own by rubbing all over it, even if they are normally happy to share their things.

However, Dr. Menicucci points out that rubbing on carpet to leave scents isn’t as common of an explanation as compared to the other reasons we’ve already covered.

How To Fix It:

Training is the primary way in which to fix this behavior.

Marking is normal for dogs, but we can teach them when and where it is appropriate to mark. Our carpets and rugs are not usually appropriate places to perform that behavior, so if we catch our dogs rubbing and believe it’s a marking behavior, it’s best to redirect them to a more appropriate place to mark (such as their own bed or crate).

Giving them alternative activities to do (such as playing with a toy or going for a walk) are also good ways to redirect the unwanted behavior into something more positive.

Teaching them “Leave It” can also help discourage them from engaging in the behavior, but if they have free access to the carpet or rug they are rubbing on, they’ll still likely engage in the behavior when we aren’t looking.

If that’s the case with your pup, it’s important to limit their access to any carpets or rugs you don’t want them rubbing on, either by closing off those areas or keeping your pup in their crate when you are unable to supervise them.

Closing Thoughts

As you’ve read, there are many reasons as to why your pup might be rolling on the carpet. In most cases, it’s not something to be especially concerned about but may require a closer look if you see other signs of illness, injury, or abnormal behaviors.

Itchiness is likely the primary reason as to why your pup is rubbing their body or face on the carpet, and is something that can be addressed by your vet if necessary.

If parasites, anal gland impactions, or a behavioral issue is the suspected culprit for the carpet rolling, it’s a good idea to reach out to a professional (groomer, trainer, and/or veterinarian) who can help you and your pup out.

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