October 08, 2019

Is your dog irresistibly drawn to fox poo? We investigate why dogs adore this stinky substance and what you can do to get rid of that unmistakeable pong.

Fox poo alert

Aagh! It’s already too late. Your dog has run off and is rolling on their back in ecstasy. Wriggling backwards and forwards, eyes closed, they absolutely refuse to come when you call. You can wave their favourite treat or squeak their favourite toy all you like. Nothing will distract them.

There’s only one thing that can give your dog that particular thrill: rolling in fox poo. They love it, but as dog owners, we hate it. Fox poo stinks to high heaven and creates an incredible mess.

‘Eau de Fox’ – the scent that lingers

And if you’ve ever had to drive a dog covered in fox poo home in your car, you’ll know what carnage that can create. Plus, you’ll probably still get the occasional whiff of foxy perfume months later. It’s the kind of stink that sticks around.

What’s the attraction?

Beagle rolling in grass

Why on earth do dogs love to roll in fox poo so much? Hold tight, because there are lots of theories.

You think you’re walking your dog. Your dog thinks it’s on a hunt.

One of the most popular theories is that dogs smear themselves in fox poo because it helps them disguise their own scent when they’re hunting. Of course, your dog will be well supplied with delicious food at home, and they don’t need to hunt to catch their dinner. But somewhere deep in their doggy brains, they think they do.

And, if you want to be as cunning as a fox when you hunt, what better way than to disguise yourself than with a delicious foxy scent?

Guess where I’ve been?

Another theory is that dogs’ instinct to roll in stinky stuff harks back to a time when wolves would roll in a carcass and carry that scent back home. Then, the rest of the pack would simply have to follow the scent trail to find the source of the food.

Honey bee going up to a flower

In a way, this is related to honey bees’ ‘waggle dance’ – where they let others in the hive know where they’ve found rich sources of pollen.

Humans have a weird sense of smell

From your dear dog’s point of view, it could simply be that humans are weird. Why don’t we love the smell of fox poo as much as canines do? What’s wrong with us? Why do we spritz ourselves with offensive scents of rose, sandalwood and jasmine, when we could treat ourselves to something much more punchy and pungent?

Dogs’ sense of smell is 10,000 times better than ours. Compared to us, they’re elite Olympic sniffers.

After all, dogs aren’t just drawn to fox poo. Show them a heap of day-old discarded mackerel heads on a beach and they’ll gleefully pile in there and smear the putrid mess all over their fur. Perhaps if our sense of smell was as finely tuned as our dog’s, we’d understand and swap our ‘sophisticated’ fragrances for earthier aromas.

The Hawaiian shirt theory

Our favourite theory, though, is that for your pooch, rolling in fox poo is about showing off, a way of saying, “Look at me. I know where you can find a pile of dead fish. Aren’t you jealous?”

Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Dog in a field of flowers

According to dog psychologist Stanley Coren: “Dogs roll in stinky stuff for the same reason humans wear loud Hawaiian shirts. It’s a matter of their dominant sense of smell, whereas, for humans, the dominant sense is vision.”

How to stop your dog rolling in fox poo

Once you’ve had to wash a dog who’s rolled in poo, you tend to become hyper-vigilant to the kind of places where it happens. Grassy patches near hedges tend to be danger zones, so it can be worth keeping your dog on a lead around them.

Mind you, a dog can pick up a foxy scent anywhere. It pays to watch for any signs that your dog is racing to sniff a particular patch of grass with interest, and a good sharp ‘No!’ command should stop them in their tracks.

How to get rid of the pong

But if you notice too late, there’s nothing else for it but to give your dog a thorough wash. You should always use a dog shampoo that’s specifically created for dogs, as your hound’s skin has a different pH from yours. You’ll find there’s a huge variety of fox poo shampoos on the market, including ones that are vegan and paraben-free.

Bathing a dog

You can also buy large anti-fox wet wipes. They won’t eradicate the mess, but they will help you get rid of the worst of it until you can get your pup into the bath.

Some people swear by tomato ketchup as a method of getting rid of a foxy pong. We’re not convinced, though. It sounds as though it might be a bit acidic for your pup’s skin. Also, if you’re putting tomato ketchup on a pale dog, you risk turning your pooch’s fur orange.

Look on the bright side

Meanwhile, American friends tell us that the stink of skunk spray far out-ranks the stink of fox poo. Apparently, the smell can resurface months later, despite repeated washing. So, next time your dog hurtles towards Mr Fox’s Fantastic Fragrance, be grateful that at least we don’t have any skunks in the UK.

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