Why Do Dogs Roll in the Grass—and How Can You Stop It?

Have you ever wondered why dogs roll in the grass? We've got the reasons behind this curious—and sometimes stinky—dog behavior.

Dogs delight us, perplex us and, sometimes, exasperate us with their behavior. Whether it’s kicking up the lawn after they pee or sniffing other dogs’ butts, dog behavior is its own seemingly secret language of sounds and signals. Decoding it is key to training a dog, just as understanding and patience are the keys to learning how to train a puppy or teaching dog commands. Understanding why do dogs roll in the grass and how you can deter the behavior might make the difference between having a clean pup and a smelly one.

There are many dog behavior mysteries that puzzle us, including why dogs eat grass. But the question of why dogs roll in the grass is just plain itchy and dirty. Is it just because it feels good? Are they spreading a scent around? Or do they really just enjoy rolling around in dirt? We asked the experts about this particular dog behavior and whether pet parents should let their dogs continue to roll in the grass.

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Why do dogs roll in the grass?

There are many reasons dogs may roll in the grass, according to veterinarians. It might be out of happiness or pleasure, due to instincts hardwired in their DNA or because of a health issue. Here are some reasons.

It feels good

Have you ever used a back scratcher or rubbed up against a corner when you’ve had an itch you couldn’t quite reach—and no one was around to scratch it? Dogs experience that same “aah” feeling when they roll on the grass.

They’re happy

Rolling in the grass may simply be a sign of playfulness, says Don LeHoullier, DVM, a veterinary expert for CareCredit Pet. Or maybe it’s how they express their delight at seeing you. “My dogs roll in the grass when I take them outside upon my return home,” says Kevin Puzycki, DVM, a spokesperson for Solid Gold pet food.

They’re itchy or allergic

More than just a little itch to scratch, persistent rolling in the grass may be a sign of allergies, says Dr. Puzycki. “I often advise clients that have dogs with allergies to envision a car covered in pollen during the spring. This film of pollen is similar to what happens on a dog’s coat. Countless allergens, invisible to our naked eye, stick on a dog’s fur, paws and more, causing consistent irritation to the skin,” he says. “Signs such as paw licking and rolling around are attempts at scratching that itch.”

They’re following their instincts

Your small breed dog or couch potato pup may seem far removed from their hunting dog ancestors, but rolling in the grass can also be instinctual hunting behavior. “Dogs may roll in the grass in order to mask their natural scent,” says Dr. LeHoullier, “with either the scent of the grass or that of another animal whose scent was present where the dog is rolling. This behavior would have assisted in hunting as the dog could then potentially get closer to their prey.”

They’re marking their territory

It’s also animal instinct to mark territory, and rolling in the grass is related to this behavior. “One of my dogs is particularly dominant,” says Dr. Puzycki, “and during walks, [they] occasionally attempt to roll in areas where another dog has marked their scent with urine or feces.”

Nasty stuff smells good to them

As much as it may repulse us, the smell of a stinky dead animal or another animal’s urine or feces might be a pleasant aroma for your dog—so much so that they want to wear it like perfume! By rolling in a dead animal (gross, we know), they may be claiming it as their own and signaling other animals to stay away.

Should you let your dog roll in the grass?

Rolling in the grass is natural behavior for a dog, says Dr. Puzycki. “Unless they have allergies or constantly roll in undesirable odors, there’s no harm in it,” he says. Dr. LeHoullier concurs and says he doesn’t discourage the behavior “unless it involves some form of rolling in unpleasant odor.” But he adds that “frequent rolling may be a sign of allergies, fleas or another issue causing itchy skin. If this is the case, be sure to discuss with your veterinarian.”

How to train your dog not to roll in the grass

If your dog has a tendency to roll in nasty stuff, or you’re just concerned about them bringing grass or dirt into the house, you can work on discouraging rolling by redirecting the behavior and using positive reinforcement, says Dr. LeHoullier. “When the dog starts to roll, or you notice they are about to roll, redirect their attention then praise them to reinforce the desired behavior.”

Dr. Puzycki says that training your dog not to roll on the grass all boils down to training your dog in general and teaching them to be responsive to your calls and commands. You also have to remain vigilant when you take your dog for a walk, or even when they’re in the backyard. “If your dog is prone to rolling in unpleasant scents,” he says, “it’s also your responsibility to survey the surroundings for such things.” If the undesirable behavior persists, then it might be time to call a professional dog trainer.

About the experts

  • Don LeHoullier, DVM, is a veterinarian and owner of Countryside Veterinary Clinic in Jefferson, Oregon. He is a veterinary expert for CareCredit Pet, a health and wellness credit card for pets.
  • Kevin Puzycki, DVM, is a veterinarian at Low Cost Animal Medical Center in New Orleans and a spokesperson for Solid Gold pet food.
Dog Running through GrassPurple Collar Pet Photography/Getty Images

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Elizabeth Heath
Elizabeth Heath is a travel and lifestyle writer based in Italy. Her writing on travel and sustainability appears in national and international publications, and she is the author of several guidebooks. For RD.com and sister publication FamilyHandyman.com, she writes about pets (especially dogs!), books, seasonal gift guides, home improvement and outdoor living.