Our puppy, a trial to my soul about which I’ve previously written, is rapidly turning into a genuine dog. He gains about a pound every week, though I won’t be keeping up with his weight now that he’s finished his last round of puppy shots and gotten his rabies vaccine.
And, typical doggy behaviors are beginning to emerge — like hiking a leg while he does his business and tracking every interesting scent he can find. Some of the more disgusting canine characteristics are showing up, too: while turning up his fuzzy nose at the dry dog food we offer, he eats the nastiest things he can scratch up, including fecal findings from his canine colleagues.
Yesterday, while out for a short walk, he went into a neighbor’s yard, sniffed, and dove headfirst into the grass, trying his best to press himself into the ground at a particular point, rolling back and forth with a clear intent to grind something into his fur.
I took a close look, and discovered the carcass of a tiny vole, one of those mouse-like critters who dig little tunnels in the yard. I don’t know what killed it, but Banjo was determined to get its dead-critter scent deeply ingrained into his coat.
Why do dogs like to roll in carrion, or even other dogs’ poop? Conventional wisdom is that its a hereditary behavior left over from their heritage as wolves, who also typically roll in the carcasses of dead animals long past their expiration date. Some think there’s a predatory purpose to disguise its scent and make it easier to sneak up on an unsuspecting victim. A rabbit, for example, might be less likely to run if the breeze brings it the scent of putrid possum rather than fresh wolf.
Others think the behavior is more of a communal thing, a way for a canine to return to the pack saying “Look what I found!” Pack-mates could judge from the smell, perhaps, whether the carcass was worth scavenging.
Why do dogs roll in carrion and eat disgusting things?
Why do humans often choose behaviors that stink up their lives to no good end? We should be guided by reason and values higher than the base instincts that inform our pets, yet many people choose to roll around in some of the worst options life has to offer.
The human inclination to make bad choices is nothing new, of course. Ancient wisdom in the Book of Proverbs observes: “Like a dog that returns to its vomit is a fool who reverts to his folly” (26:11).
Fortunately, we don’t have to live like dogs. If our lives are going to smell to high heaven, let it be the scent that Paul talked about in 2 Corinthians 2:15: “For we are a sweet aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (NET).