Amber has a German Shepherd companion and enjoys sharing information with other pet parents.
Why Do Dogs Roll in Dead Animals?
We love our pets dearly, and usually they make great companions. But sometimes our dogs do things that annoy us, like rolling in whatever disgusting thing they happen to come across.
Dogs love the smell of dead things, and not just fish. I once saw my dog roll over a dead raccoon—and the worst part is that he licked it afterward. He's also rubbed his back all over a dead goose, feces from an unknown animal, and a carcass so deteriorated I couldn't even tell what animal it was anymore. I have even seen a dog roll in dead deer; fortunately, it was not my own dog. I don't need to tell you how horrible the stench of those deer was.
It's bad enough that I have to smell them the entire walk or car ride home, but then my furry companion feels the need to share the scent by rubbing his fur all over me. I'm sure many of you have pets that do the same. But why do they do it?
Potential Reasons for Rolling in Dead Things
Here are a few possible theories:
- Dogs gained this behavior from wolves.
- Your dog just wants attention.
- Rolling in smelly stuff is fun.
Theory 1: Dogs Gained This Behavior From Wolves
All dogs are descendants of wolves, from the biggest breed to the smallest. Before becoming domesticated, wolves hunted and scavenged for their own food. Rolling in dead animals, then, is believed to be for hunting purposes. Many animals have an acute sense of smell, so it was essential for a wolf to hide their natural scent by rolling in the excrement or carcasses of other animals. That way they could be stealthier when stalking their prey as no one would smell them coming.
Theory 2: Your Dog Just Wants Attention
Some animal behaviorists think that theory is wrong, however, because there is no disguising the smell of wet dog even under the stench of death. Instead, it is thought that wolves, and essentially dogs, roll around in dead things in an attempt to gain attention from the pack. Anyone who has ever owned a dog knows they love attention.
My dog lets me know when he wants my attention by barking, whining incessantly, shoving his toys in my face, or sometimes even trying to fit his entire body (all 100 pounds of himself) on my tiny lap. Rolling in smelly things may have been a way for wolves to garner attention from the other members of their pack by saying, "Smell all the cool stuff I found! Aren't I really interesting?"
Theory 3: Rolling in Smelly Stuff Is Fun
Dogs may simply roll in dead animals for fun the fun of it or for communication. In this sense, your pet has found something that, to them, smells wonderful. They wish to keep that scent with them and wear it around with pride, or they want to share it with their pack. In our case, however, the pack consists only of the human members of the household who do not appreciate the smell nearly as much as the dog does.
What makes sense to them obviously makes zero sense to us, but we still love our furry companions all the same. If you can't stand the smell, though, here are ways to get that nasty scent out of your dog's fur.
How to Get the Nasty Smell out of Your Dog's Fur
The best way to get the fish smell out of your dog's fur is abstinence. In other words, don't let your dog roll in dead fish. However, if you've got a stubborn pain in the butt that is anything like my dog, sometimes you just can't stop them, especially if you let them run around without a leash on like I do.
There is no easy way to get the smell of dead fish out of their fur. Regular dog shampoo alone will not get rid of the stink. Trust me, I know, I've tried. But don't fret, if you've got the time, there are other options.
Products for Ridding Your Dog of the Fishy Smell
|Household Products||Chemical Products|
XO Odor Neutralizer
Apple Cider Vinegar
Try a deodorizing shampoo. These shampoos are made for this kind of thing. I use Natural Chemistry's Natural Deodorizing Shampoo. As suggested by the name of the product, it is 100% natural, so there are no harsh chemicals or other additives that may be harmful to your pet.
However, I have found that a deodorizing shampoo alone doesn't quite get the smell out of their fur. After one wash, even if you really work the shampoo into their fur, the fishy smell tends to persist. It won't be as strong, but it will still be there. It may take several simultaneous washes or the use of a secondary product to really get the smell out of there.
There are many other deodorizing shampoos out there on the market, though, most of which I have not tried. So check your local pet store and ask them what they suggest and maybe it'll work for you.
Lemon, Vinegar, and Baking Soda
After washing your dog with a deodorizing shampoo, if the smell persists there are other products you can try in succession to rid your pup of the awful stench they managed to accumulate.
This one is from Petfinder.com's: The Adopted Dog Bible by Kim Saunders.
After washing your dog with a deodorizing shampoo to get all the gunk out of their fur and to get rid of the worst of the smell, try cleaning your dog with lemon juice.
- Squirt the lemon juice over the smelly areas (which is probably most of your dog).
- Let the solution sit for 5–10 minutes.
Your dog will smell lemony fresh. However, you may need to apply a conditioner after as lemon juice can dry out their skin.
There are two different types of vinegar you can use for this: white vinegar or apple cider vinegar. In regards to white vinegar, I have not found a reputable source asserting white vinegar as a reliable method of eradicating the fish smell. I did, however, find it on quite a few forums from users that insist it is a viable approach so that is why I am including it.
I will include a disclaimer (as it is my way): As with any homemade remedy, it is merely anecdotal—in other words, what works for one person, may not work for everyone.
Washing your dog with vinegar won't hurt them, so there is no harm in trying it. But don't just pour the vinegar on them; mix it with water first. As with the lemon juice, let it sit on their fur for a few minutes before rinsing. If you can't stand the smell of vinegar, you will need to wash your dog with shampoo again.
Apple Cider Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar can also be used as a secondary product to get the fish smell out. Apple Cider Vinegar is a natural remedy for a lot of pet ailments. According to The Whole Dog Journal, ACV can act as a urinary system tonic and cleanser, it can act as a natural flea repellent, alleviate skin allergy problems, act as a natural antibiotic, help prevent food poisoning, improve digestion and more. If you swab your dog's ears out with a little bit of apple cider vinegar on a regular basis, it can also prevent ear infections.
Apparently, it can also be used, in conjunction with a deodorizing shampoo, to remove the smell of fish from dog fur if you mix a couple of tablespoons per quart of water and wash your dog with it. Apple cider vinegar is a must-have for any home with a dog.
Baking soda is another one of those products that has hundreds of uses. There are even books written about the uses of baking soda such as Vicki Lansky's Baking Soda: Over 500 Fabulous, Fun, and Frugal Uses You've Probably Never Thought Of. Personally, I use baking soda as an exfoliant and mask for my face. It works wonderfully, by the way. Baking soda is often used to suck up foul stenches, such as in the fridge, and it is no different for your dog.
- After shampooing, sprinkle the baking soda all over your dog and rub it in.
- Try not to let your dog shake it off and let it sit for a few minutes.
- Then brush the baking soda out of their fur or rinse out if your dog hates to be brushed or won't sit still long enough for that.
Using These Products Together
The Daily Puppy suggests washing your dog with a deodorizing shampoo, then massaging an apple cider vinegar solution into their fur, before finally rubbing baking soda all over them and combing out the powder. But who's got the time for that? Using just one of these products after a good shampoo should get the smell out.
There are a couple of what I am calling chemical products (because they can't be found in your home or at your local store and aren't natural) that can be used to clean your pup.
The first product is called BioExtreme. BioExtreme is a biological formula that does not contain dangerous chemicals. It is often used in the service industry to remove urine and feces from clothing and other objects. BioExtereme can be added to laundry to eliminate the smell of excrement or it can be added to mop water, sprays, etc. It can be used on your pet as well. After shampooing (to remove any tangible debris) a diluted solution of BioExtreme can be sprayed onto your pet and then rinsed off.
XO Odor Neutralizer
Another product is XO Odor Neutralizer. As per the company that makes the product, it suggests diluting 1 oz of XO Odor Neutralizer in 1 gallon of water, and then pouring the solution over your dog. It works as a shampoo as well, so you don't necessarily have to use a deodorizing shampoo before using the company's product.
These are both products I have not tried so I can not attest to their success. I included them in this blog so that you know there are options out there, and because they may save you time when cleaning your dog, as it eliminates the need for multiple steps. However, with that said, I think using more natural remedies, such as vinegar or baking soda, is not only a safer option, but more easily accessible.
Make Your Own Deodorizing Solution
Rather than buy a deodorizing shampoo, you can also make your own using the following recipes. This recipe is from eHow.com.
- 1/3 cup glycerin
- 1 cup lemon-scented dish detergent
- 1 cup white vinegar
- 1 qt. warm water
- Mix ingredients together in a plastic container. If you close the container and shake the ingredients together to mix you will have your own homemade deodorizing shampoo.
- Work it into your dog's fur just like any other shampoo.
The website says it should get the smell out, but it the fish smell persists, you will need to follow up with baking soda for a clean-smelling fur.
Homemade Solution for Getting the Skunk Smell Out of Your Dog
This next recipe was developed by chemist Paul Krebaum, and it was formulated especially for getting the smell of skunk off your dog if they've been sprayed, but it will work for fish smells as well. This is not something I would try on a regular basis, or ever really just to get the fish smell out, as it involves some dangerous chemicals that are harsh on your dog's coat and will dry their skin out.
Warning: Hydrogen Peroxide Is Dangerous
The main ingredient is hydrogen peroxide. Hydrogen peroxide is a very, very strong oxidizer that can react violently with many other chemicals. I once reacted a very concentrated solution of hydrogen peroxide in a vial with a little bit of what was an unknown metal at the time, but I'm pretty sure was iron. All I have to say is thank God I had the foresight to put on some goggles and to do the reaction in a secure lab hood because the reaction was so violent that the vial literally started shaking and almost exploded. I had to close the lab hood or risk being hurt. I learned my lesson that day: Don't mess with hydrogen peroxide.
Protective Gear Is Essential
If you are going to resort to this solution, you will need to wear protective gear, preferably goggles, an apron, and some rubber or latex gloves. Your pet will need some lubrication or 1–2 drops of mineral oil in their eyes for protection.
Now that you have been properly warned and have sworn only to use this solution in dire situations (like if your dog has been sprayed by a skunk), I'll let you know what the recipe is.
- 1-quart Hydrogen Peroxide 3%
- 1/4 cup baking soda
- 1–2 teaspoons liquid soap
- lukewarm water
- In an open plastic container, combine 1-quart hydrogen peroxide 3% solution (absolutely nothing stronger), 1/4 cup baking soda and 1 to 2 teaspoons of liquid soap.
- Add lukewarm water if needed (for larger dogs).
- Mix the ingredients well. A chemical reaction will occur and as a result, the solution will start to fizz. Do not mix in a closed container as the reaction will be violent. The pressure will build up in a closed container due to the reaction and the container will then explode injuring you and your dog. Do not store the mixture. This is a dangerous, reactive, and unstable mixture so do not store it. Use it right away and dispose of whatever is unused.
- Don't rinse your dog off first.
- Apply the solution directly to your dog, rubbing into their fur all the way down to their skin.
- After the dog is totally clean, rinse.
- Avoid the eyes and ears. When using any of these methods, be careful not to get any of the solution into their eyes or ears. A dog's ear is very sensitive, and as most of you know, prone to infections. So do your best not to get anything in there.
- Wash collars, leashes, and other items. If you've tried everything and something still smells, it may not be your dog. The smell could be in their collar, head halter, leash, or any other apparel they may have been wearing at the time they decided to cover themself in the awful odor. The smell may even be on your hands or in your clothes as well. Try adding baking soda to the washing machine when cleaning their collar or other apparel to get the fish smell out.
- Be patient, and have reasonable expectations. If you can't get the smell out, don't get frustrated. Dogs have a lot of fur and there's a lot of nooks and crannies (like in between their toes), so you probably won't be able to clean it all unless you (and the dog) are really patient. Also, if your dog is like mine, then they're probably trying to run away from you during the entire bath and it'll be impossible to get rid of the smell entirely. As with any other smell, you'll get used to it, especially if you really love your dog.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Ash on July 22, 2019:
My GSP/Bluetick Coonhound mix loves to roll in dead minnows! It's the absolute worst and I can't get the smell out of anything, especially her.
AmyStake on May 27, 2019:
My dogs roll on crawfish or as we call them crawdads. TNot cooked. They build their stinky little mud huts all over the yard, especially in moist areas. When the dogs find one, they roll with delight on them. Ugh. Going to try some of these. Just washed one of the three dogs with Dawn, Pantene, Suave, and something else, just to start drying her off and smell crawfish!!
Sadly Smelly Dog Owner on July 14, 2016:
Help. My dog smells like a butt. He doesn't roll around in anything, either. He doesn't even go outside! He just smells like a dead animal. I've given him 3 helpings of odor-removing soap each bath. He sometimes escapes outside and sleeps with my other dog, which is an outside dog but the other dog has a different smell. My dogs face just smells like rotten meat, and I can't wash his face. From his forehead to his chin he smells horrible.
jan on April 20, 2015:
thanks for recipe number 1, it works brilliantly without glycerine, got rid of putrid rotten fish stink on my two schipperkes when nothing else did. Plus easy and cheap :)
Island Isis on April 14, 2015:
Thanks for the tips. Lots of fishy nasties to roll in and our last trip to the beach was not good for Skippy! Bath time! Thank you!
Maria on April 07, 2015:
Thank you for this article! It is the most informative I have come across; my dog rolled around on a dead fish yesterday and it was so awful. I washed him a few times but only had his normal shampoo. Most of it came out, but he still stinks up close. Thanks for listing multiple ways to try to get the stink out!