Ever catch your pup writhing and rolling around in the grass? This behavior could mean a couple of things.

By Jennifer Nelson

Just like the question of why chickens cross the road, the answer to why dogs roll in grass may be equally simple. "Because it feels good," says Dr. John Faught, co-founder of Firehouse Animal Health Center, an Austin, Texas-based veterinary hospital group housed in a 100-year-old fire station.

Dog Smiling while Rolling in Grass Outdoors
Credit: Getty Images

"Every dog loves occasionally rolling around on different textures just for the pure joy of it," explains Dr. Faught. In fact, a large part of the way your dog interacts with their environment is through smell and touch. After all, he's not out there sniffing every inch of the backyard for fun, you know. It's a part of how he interacts with his yard or anywhere else he goes.

"If they find something that smells or feels good, choosing to roll in it is a totally normal behavior, even though it sometimes doesn't fit our idea of normal or convenient," says Dr. Faught. Though you might be embarrassed when your pup dives into the neighbor's grass on a walk or gets down and dirty on his back writhing in leaves, mud, or any other icky thing on the ground, it's a pretty standard pup behavior.

What Does it Mean When Dogs Roll in the Grass?

  • It means that your dog is relaxed and playful. At that moment his stress is low, and he doesn't have a care in the world.
  • He's communicating to other dogs and the humans around him that he's feeling happy.
  • If there's another dog around, he might be communicating that he'd like to play. Dogs frequently get on their back when wrestling around with each other, and he may be indicating he's open to a play session.
  • He could be itchy. "We see this in dogs with environmental allergies, which are by far the most common type of allergy we deal with," says Dr. Faught. For allergic dogs, rolling around outside can be problematic because it may expose them to even more to irritants.

What if He's Rolling Because of Allergies?

If you suspect your dog has allergies because he frequently rolls around outside, talk to your veterinarian. "In addition to oral or injectable medications to control allergies, there are a lot of options for wipes, shampoos, and conditioners that can help keep a dog's skin clean and allergen-free," Dr. Faught stresses.

What if He's Rolling in Something Stinky?

Some dogs do like to roll in super stinky stuff, and that's normal too. Veterinarians have a lot of theories about why dogs roll in the remnants of anything smelly.

"We know that some wild predators do the same thing to hide their scent to make them better hunters," says Dr. Faught. Even though most dogs aren't active hunters anymore, they may still be hardwired for the behavior of their ancestors, the wolves.

What's more, it could be another way dogs communicate with one another. They rub themselves in a scent as a message to another dog. "If your dog was a human, it might prefer Chanel No 5, but in real life, it may prefer the scent of rotten leaves or a dead animal," says Dr. Faught. While our nose turns up, your dog's nose may think he's rolling in the finest eau de toilette.

And finally, there's the 'Look what I've found!' theory. According to this idea, your dog may roll in some foul odor to show you and other dogs what he's found—either bragging or warning them to stay away, claiming it as his own. By "wearing the scent" he may command respect from the neighborhood dogs.

Dr. Jed Rogers, the other co-founder of Firehouse Animal Health Center, recalls when he was living in Hawaii with his cocker spaniel Mo. During a formal photoshoot with his companion, Mo managed to find a dead octopus and roll around in it during a break in the pitcture taking. He had just had professional grooming and was looking great. "We got the photos we needed but holding him post-octopus roll was no fun," says Dr. Rogers. Of course, Mo loved every minute of it.