Wolves and dogs have three main forms of communication: vocalization, body language and scent marking and rolling.

If you have a dog member in your family, undoubtedly you have experienced this: You and your dog are walking along and suddenly your dog joyfully drops to the ground to do the ‘upside-down-dance’, which is; your dog starts rubbing his cheek, neck, sides, and back vigorously on the ground, with legs happily kicking towards the sky. Your dog may be rolling on fresh manure, or (sadly) a flattened squirrel that’s been dead for quite some time, or you might not see or smell anything – but your dog continues to make a bodily impression deep into the earth. If nothing is visually or olfactory present on the sidewalk or grass where your dog is rubbing, I guarantee you – there was something there. Perhaps feces or urine from another animal, a bite of roast beef sandwich, an ice cream cone, or a deceased bird or squirrel that has since been cleaned up.

Because all dogs come from wolves, their communicative traits are essentially the same. The biggest differences would be that wolves communicate much bolder than dogs, kind of like an actor exaggerates his speech and body gestures. Another contributing factor would be the breed of dog. Obviously, a Husky is a much “wolfier” breed than a Chihuahua.

For wild wolves, scent rolling is a way for individual wolves to bring information back to the rest of the pack. For example, if there is an elk carcass and a pack member traveling alone discovers it, he will scent roll on the elk carcass and then bring the scent of “food” back to his pack. The pack will thoroughly investigate the elk scent and then excitedly and hungrily follow the wolf that discovered the elk carcass back to the elk for a “free” lunch.

Another source of information that scent rolling achieves is wolves can disguise their own smell with a “perfume” of whatever it is they’re rolling on. The purpose of this scent-camouflage is it allows wolves to get closer to their prey.

At Wolf Haven the animal care office has a cupboard of vials that contain a plethora of scents; lavender, lemon, licorice, orange, oregano and vanilla, to name a few. We use spray bottles to spray the various scents into the wolves enclosures, so they can happily roll on a new smell.

At meal and snack time it doesn’t matter if we feed the wolves beef, deer, elk, chicken, salmon or tuna-popsicles, you bet – the wolves will roll on it!

Let us not forget this is very important part of how wolves communicate!

- Skie Bender, Education Outreach Specialist, Wolf Haven International 


Responses to " Why do Wolves (and Dogs) Roll on Stinky Stuff?"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Dang this whole time, I thought his back was itching!! hahahah

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