Few Dogs Care If They Are Dirty: Here’s Why

Most dogs don’t care about dirt because:

  • Their ancestors would roll in it to disguise their scent
  • They like to mark their territory by rolling on it
  • They need to get rid of other scents by covering them with their own
  • Rolling in things is their way of following centuries of canine behavior

If you own a dog, you probably give them an occasional bath. The frequency depends on the individual dog and the situations your pooch gets into.

I have a Bichon Frise called Freya who is in the picture below. Despite the white, fluffy ‘space helmet’ image you might have of a Bichon, Freya likes dirt. She loves nothing more than rolling in something pleasant. In her eyes, of course – not in mine!

Fresh soil is akin to eau de toilette for Freya. I’ll tell you more about her preferences later (with photographic evidence), but if you are wondering whether dogs care if they are dirty, I’ve got all the answers for you here.

I’ve researched the topic at length and discovered some surprising facts. I’m going to share them with you here, so settle in and let’s get started.


Your Dog Likes to Mark its Territory

I took my dog, Freya, for a play date with her fellow Bichon-Cairn terrier cross just yesterday. He peed on the lawn, and she then went over the same spot. You can guess what happened next… tag peeing where they each wanted to be last to do it!

The same territory-marking behavior is why your pooch might love rolling around in things you and I think are horrible and smelly. Your pooch is trying to leave its own scent behind.

It might think the scent it has found doesn’t belong in that spot, as your dog is reacting to its desire to leave its scent in that area. It doesn’t worry about how it might smell when it is finished. In fact, many dogs love to smell funky… even if we think the opposite.

One interesting article I read explained that dogs used to roll in things to cover their own scent, rather than leaving their scent elsewhere. If Freya had lived centuries ago, she would have hunted for her food rather than bugging me for it at 6am every morning.

Rolling around in horrific things would have covered her natural scent. This would make it less likely she would be spotted by her prey before she caught it.

Of course, today, she just does it to frustrate me – especially just after she has had a bath, a blow-dry, and looks as white and fluffy as can be as in the photo above.


Few Dogs Care About Being Dirty

During my research for this article, I read lots of personal stories from dog owners sharing some experiences. One person mentioned that their dog loved rolling around on rotting fish it had found on a beach!

In contrast, that same dog hated having the bath it was certainly going to have when it returned home.

Freya loves worms… ideally dead ones, which I guess is better. She will roll around on those for hours given half the chance.

Different dogs have different preferences. Squirrel poop, bird poop, cat poop… anything horrible a dog can find, it needs to deal with it by rolling on it, eating it, or something similar.


Skin Conditions Can Be Aggravated by Dirt

Skin conditions can occur in some dogs, just as you and I can experience similar conditions. If your pooch has a skin condition, it might be aggravated by dirt, water, and other pollutants.

This means a regular bath is a good idea. It helps keep your pooch clean. Some skin infections are best treated with regular washing using a medicated shampoo and/or a conditioner recommended by your vet.

Dandruff is another condition to be aware of. Any build-up is likely to make your pooch feel uncomfortable. Your dog might begin to scratch but will feel far better with a regular bath.

The bottom line here is always to talk to your vet if your dog scratches a lot, seems to have flaky skin, or any other troublesome conditions.


Prevent Outdoor Access Following a Bath

If you decide to bathe your dog, perhaps following a huge scenting session or a long muddy walk, you should make sure you are prepared before you get started.

A case of the zoomies after a bath is common. This means your pooch is going to run around the house like mad once they have been toweled down.

Freya does this. When I have  towel dried her (before her blow-dry), she runs around and wipes her face on the kitchen mats. One of the reasons why she does this, according to my research, is to regain her own scent.

She smells gorgeous after a bath – at least I think so – but she may not think the same.

I always make sure the door to the yard is closed before I bathe her. If she got the chance, she would head straight back outdoors while still damp. I dread to think what she might roll in.

Don’t forget that dogs are reacting to centuries of in-built instinct. I revealed how dogs’ ancestors rolled in stuff to disguise their scent and improve their chances of successful hunting. Don’t be too surprised if your pooch attempts to get rid of the lovely smell of shampoo and conditioner you’ve just used.


You Care About Your Dog Being Dirty

Sometimes, no matter how fast you are, you can’t prevent your pup from rolling in something awful. It doesn’t need to be something wet or muddy either.

Freya has discovered a love of sand. She doesn’t just run in it though – she rolls in it. Seriously, she shoves her face in it and snorts. When she has finished, she looks nothing like a Bichon as her white coat has changed to a tan color.

This always results in a bath. She does love bath time though, so maybe she is angling for another one?

I don’t want to be bathing her every five minutes, of course. So, there are a couple things I do to make sure she has minimal opportunities to roll around in the dirt:


Regular poop-scooping: I keep the yard free of poop (I do this twice daily or whenever I see some that needs picking up). Cat poop is a bigger issue as she loves it if she can possibly get near any.


Off-leash control: When Freya is off her leash, I watch out for potential danger spots like ponds with algae on top and muddy puddles. I have trained her to understand the command ‘leave’ – she understands to steer clear of something if I give that command. It works 99.9% of the time!

By minimizing the opportunities that she has available to roll in things and get dirty, I can minimize the chances of being caught out and needing to bath her more often than necessary.


Tips for a Clean Doggy Household

Any pet that goes outside can bring smells and bits and pieces back in with it. The last thing you want is for your dog to make your home smell like they do.

There are lots of great tips you can follow to keep your home from being dirty or smelling like your pooch on a bad day. Here are some I have found useful:


  • Clean floors and carpets daily: I have laminate floors throughout the house, so a quick vacuum followed by a mop of each room doesn’t take long. I use a cleaning fluid designed to dry fast and get rid of any bacteria left on the floor.
  • Keep paws clean: If Freya goes into the yard on a wet day, I know she’s going to come back in wet. I keep a towel by the door, together with some doggy-friendly wet wipes if I need them (great for spot cleaning).


This is a picture of the indoor mat I have by the back door that soaks up water and mud – it’s designed for pet owners, and I thoroughly recommend getting one if you can.

[my note – rubber-backed dog friendly mat… not waterproof but it soaks up a LOT!]

  • A couple of special throws: Freya has a favorite armchair she likes to sleep on. I put a throw on there for her to snuggle up in.

It also means I can regularly wash it and replace it with another one whenever needed. This keeps it smelling fresh.

  • Keep an eye on those paws: Your pooch’s paws are likely to get dirty every day. Your pooch may not mind the smell but keep an eye on them as things can get stuck in there and be painful for your pooch.

I’ve had to get rid of little round ball seed pods in the past – they always get stuck between her pads.


Final Tip: Always Use Your Nose and Eyes!

Your dog may not mind being dirty. Your pooch’s idea of being dirty and your idea are going to be poles apart.

The best way to determine whether your dog needs a wash is to figure out if it smells bad. If your dog does pong, it’s time for a bath. If it looks bad – covered in mud or dirt, maybe – it’s also time for a bath. All that debris will fall off in your home otherwise.

Regular baths aren’t necessary unless one of those senses of yours sends you an alert – in which case, pay attention to it.


Writer: Allison Whitehead

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