It’s your dog’s mealtime.
You fill their bowl and expect them to dig in.
But instead… they roll in their food. What?
Questions start popping up in your head:
“Why does my dog roll in food?” you wonder.
You’re in luck!
This article will cover all you need to know about this unusual behavior.
So read on and find out:
- 5 reasons why dogs roll in their food and treats.
- 5 tips to stop your dog from engaging in this behavior.
- What to do before mealtimes to make sure your dog starts eating right away.
- And so much more…
Table of contents
- Why do dogs roll in food?
- Why does my dog roll in his treats?
- 5 reasons why dogs roll in their food and treats
- 5 tips to stop your dog from rolling in their food and treats
Why do dogs roll in food?
Dogs roll in their food for various reasons. Sometimes they play right before mealtimes. At other times, they do it to guard their food from other animals or people. But in some cases, dogs do it because it’s fun. And they love the scent of food on their fur.
Why does my dog roll in his treats?
Your dog rolls in his treats to mask scents and communicate. In the wild, wolves roll in the food to tell the pack about a food source. It’s also one way to mask their scent so they can get closer to their prey. This behavior has been passed down to companion dogs.
5 reasons why dogs roll in their food and treats
#1: Playing at mealtime
In many ways, dogs are like small children. They have these weird behaviors that either have you raising your brow or laughing.
One such behavior is playing during mealtimes.
Dogs either roll in their food. Or push the treats around with their nose. In short, they’re more interested in playing than in eating.
Like any other dog parents, you don’t want your dog to make a habit out of this. You want them to eat their food when it’s mealtime.
You shouldn’t have to tolerate it when your dog plays with food. After all, it costs money, makes a mess, and last but not least, your dog starts to smell weird.
But here’s the thing. Your dog could be playing with their food out of boredom. Or even lack of exercise.
These factors make dogs engage in undesirable behaviors.
Perhaps they have a lot of energy to burn. And if that’s so, then they can’t concentrate on the task at hand. Which is mealtime. They’d rather play with food than eat it.
This could be a form of entertainment for dogs. Or, they’ve learned that playing with food gets your attention.
Reading tip: 7 Reasons Why Dogs Like Treats So Much + 5 Dangers
#2: Resource guarding
It’s natural for dogs to guard their resources. They roll in their food to tell others that it’s theirs. And that no one should touch it or take it away.
This behavior is called resource guarding.
This study defines the term as:
“The use of avoidance, threatening, or aggressive behaviors by a dog to retain control of food or non-food items in the presence of a person or other animal.”
In another study, the authors looked into the factors associated with resource guarding. They recruited 2207 dog parents representing 3589 dogs.
Here’s what they found:
The following were at high risk of people- and dog-directed resource guarding aggression:
- Mixed breeds.
- Neutered males.
- Dogs with high levels of impulsivity.
- Dogs with high levels of fearfulness.
Also, removing the food bowl during mealtimes was associated with resource guarding behaviors.
Here’s a dog with resource guarding issues. You’ll see that the dog growls whenever any of his parents try to come close:
These days, dogs no longer have to guard their food against others. They won’t have a shortage of food anyway.
But dogs don’t know this. They might still feel the need to guard their food against littermates, for example.
This is exactly how dogs in the wild behave. They scavenge for food. And sometimes, it’s hard to come by.
So when there’s food, they have to fight over other dogs. Or maybe even hide the food from others.
This resource guarding instinct remains strong.
#3: Masking scent
If you see Rover rolling in his food, he’s likely picking up the food’s scent. It might not be evident to you. But other dogs can tell.
You might have witnessed your dog rolling in dead fish. Or carcasses of other animals and poop as well. Yeah, I know. These things smell… big time.
Rolling in their food and treats is an alternative to rolling in really smelly stuff.
But no matter how gross it might seem to you, dogs just love doing it.
Just look at Lacey the Shih Tzu rolling on her treat:
And did you know? Dogs in the wild mask their scent using other scents. It’s useful when they’re stalking prey.
#4: Telling others about a food source
Rolling in food and treats could be a way to tell other dogs about a food source.
This is similar to what had been observed among dogs’ cousins, wolves.
When wolves hunt for food, they roll in it. It’s to tell the pack where they have been. And what kind of food they have found on their hunt.
In fact, one experiment found that wolves don’t just eat when they find a food source. They rolled in it and ate.
The curator that studied scent rolling in wolves had some assumptions.
First, the smell of food on the wolf’s breath and fur was to tell other wolves about the food source. Second, other wolves can backtrack to the source of the scent.
Dogs love to roll in smelly things. Whether it’s their food, treats, and even yucky stuff such as poop and dead animals.
One reason for this behavior could be communication.
When they’re covered in smelly stuff, it sends a message to other dogs.
It’s like your dog is saying, “Yo, check out this fantastic smell!”
Or, “Hey, bro, I’ve got lots of food here. Wanna smell?”
Okay, so this might not be exactly what your dog is saying. But you get the point.
Here’s a wolf, a close relative of dogs, scent rolling on a stick. Wolves usually share the scent with their pack:
Bonus: Personal preference
Perhaps, we don’t have to overanalyze some dog behaviors.
Maybe your dog simply enjoys rolling in food before eating it. Or perhaps it is rewarding, like some other dog behaviors.
It could be similar to why they roll in yucky stuff such as poop.
Dogs do this because they love the smell. That’s according to Patricia McConnell, an animal behavior expert.
It’s like humans spraying on perfume that they like.
McConnell also observes that dogs roll in smelly stuff to attract others.
5 tips to stop your dog from rolling in their food and treats
#1: Give your dog enough exercise
Did you know how powerful exercise is?
It can put a stop to many of our dogs’ undesirable behaviors.
Think of it this way:
If physically and mentally spent, your dog will have no energy to misbehave.
And several studies have shown a link between physical activities and undesirable behaviors.
This study conducted a survey and gathered 234 questionnaires from dog parents. The dogs were divided into the following groups:
- Active dogs (AD).
- Sedentary dogs (SD).
The findings showed that physical activity has a positive influence on canine behavior.
Another study showed a connection between overweight dogs and undesirable behaviors. The authors gathered data for 11,154 dogs, of which 1801 (16.1%) were overweight.
The findings showed that 261 (22.7%) of overweight dogs were more likely to guard their food. On the other hand, 22.3% of overweight dogs were more likely to steal food.
How much exercise a puppy needs
This depends on many factors. You have to consider the age, breed, and health condition.
Puppies have more energy than adults. So, pups require more exercise.
However, avoid one long form of exercise for your puppy. They are still growing, so exercise in short sessions is preferable.
With very young puppies, the American Kennel Club (AKC) recommends short walks and multiple play sessions in a day.
The rule of thumb is limiting exercise to 5 minutes per month of age. So if you have a 4-month-old pup, stick to 20 minutes of physical activity.
The AKC further recommends dividing the time into at least 3 exercise sessions. Then make sure your dog gets plenty of naps or rest.
You can then build up your dog for longer walks or exercise as they grow old.
Also, don’t forget to keep their brains working. You’ll see that mental activities could be more tiring than physical ones.
A combination of physical and mental activities will keep your dog healthy and calm.
How much exercise an adult dog needs
This depends heavily on your dog’s breed.
For instance, Border Collies and German Shepherds require more exercise than a Bulldog.
So know a dog’s exercise requirements even before getting one.
It’s unfair to get a German Shepherd when you don’t have an active lifestyle. Similarly, it’s not good for a Chihuahua to run in marathons.
Also, think about your dog’s health condition. Dogs with hip dysplasia can’t do vigorous exercises.
The same with brachycephalic breeds. These dogs are those with shortened snouts. They can’t tolerate long exercises because of breathing difficulties.
#2: Exercise your dog right before mealtime
Playtime should be separate from mealtime.
Here’s an idea to stop your dog from rolling in food.
Just before mealtime, take your dog on a walk or run. Thirty minutes or an hour would do, depending on your dog.
You can also try other exercises if going out is not an option. You can certainly do fetch at home. Or hide and seek.
The idea here is to tire them out so that they don’t play when it’s mealtime. They are so tired and hungry they only care about eating their food.
#3: Make your dog work for their food
How about mental exercises?
You can feed your dog their dinner through a stuffed Kong. Or other food-dispensing toys.
Here’s a simple tutorial on how to stuff a Kong:
Aside from being mentally stimulating, it has other benefits.
For one, dogs eating through food dispensers don’t run the risk of bloat. Dogs that eat like it’s the end of the world are 5 times more likely to get bloat.
But with a stuffed Kong, they can take their sweet time eating their food.
Two, this is ideal for dogs losing weight.
What’s more, feeding your dog this way is similar to being out in the wild. Where wild dogs and wolves work for their food.
So your dog is also working for their own meal.
And they’re tired from all that physical and mental exercises. Now they are more focused on eating dinner than playing with it.
#4: Feed dogs separately
Have you imagined your dogs living harmoniously?
I’m sure that’s what dog parents of multi-dog households wish for.
Unfortunately, this is not the case all the time. There will be days when your dogs will come to a head over food or properties.
If one dog is resource guarding, consider feeding your dogs in separate rooms. Better for each dog to focus on their food and not play with others.
Anxiety and stress over food can also be lessened with this arrangement. A dog won’t feel threatened that another might steal their lunch.
#5: Don’t show yourself preparing their food
My friend’s dog, Oreo, loves food. And she knows when it’s time for her to eat.
While her furmom prepares her food, Oreo does some things. She would bark if her mom’s taking too long.
And if that’s not enough, she would make a tippy-tap sound with her front paws. Think of an impatient human tapping their foot.
Or, Oreo would go around in circles.
Is your dog like Oreo that gets emotionally aroused when it’s time to eat?
While sometimes what she does is cute, it’s not a good idea to encourage the behavior.
The best thing to do is not show yourself preparing your dog’s meal. Have them wait in another room.
Otherwise, the excitement might be too much for them.
Either they end up eating fast or playing with their food.
Don’t encourage your dog to roll in their food and treats. Though it’s harmless, it shouldn’t be tolerated. Dogs must learn to separate playtime from mealtime.