Ask A Vet: Why Are Dogs Attracted to Foul Smells?

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on They've enlisted their Co-President, Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, to answer your questions every week. Got a question for Dr. Scarlett? Ask away in the comments!

Q: I was at the beach the other day and my dogs made a beeline for a mound in the sand. Turns out the mound was a dead seal. Why are dogs attracted to such foul smells?

A: And the question your dogs are asking is, “Why don’t humans dress like this more often?”

Dogs are only so-so on the vision front but their sense of smell is incredible - millions of times better than ours.  There are two basic theories on why dogs roll in crap.  One is that rolling in strong smells disguises the dog’s scent thus allowing them to sneak up on prey easier.  I don’t know why a rodent or deer would be lulled into thinking that wafts of rotting flesh would equal safety.  In fact, researchers found that  wolves—who may be more motivated to be a successful hunter than your average English Bulldog—tended to prefer rolling in scents that are inoffensive, which nullifies that theory

The other theory is that the Eau d’Offal is attractive to dogs i.e. it makes dogs more attractive to other dogs.  What if beauty is not only in the eye but also in the smell of the beholder? And when you think about it, dogs are pretty much stuck with the same ole fuzzy coat to wear day after day so they need a little olfactory accessory to spice it up.

Are we really that different?  After all, look at how we assault our senses. Behold:

That beached seal carcass, to your dog, is the equivalent of you finding a full size bottle of Jo Malone on the subway – Score! And, since your dog has no thumbs, he can’t use your Annik Goutal.  Think of it as Eau de Toilette du Seal.

You have questions? We have answers! No question is too silly or too gross…we’ve heard it all! “Ask A Vet” every Friday from 12pm-1pm on Twitter: @sfspca.

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