September 25, 2006

A life seasoned with carrion

Our dog ShelbyShelby has been off to visit ses parfumeurs préférés.

She has come reeking of her favorite scent, Parfum de Bête Morte, from the ancient firm of Charogne et Fils.

Why is that Jack, the dog with a tight, oily, water-resistant coat, never rolls in dead things, while Shelby, with her long silky fur, revels in them? He is easy to clean, but all that I can do with her is to sponge her with Simple Green. She does not enjoy baths, and I don't want to traumatize her.

There are two questions here, readers.

1. What product best removes Parfum de Bête Morte?

2. And why do dogs love it so much? Don't tell me that they "know" it covers their natural scent and makes them better hunters, because I do not think that dogs are capable of such reasoning.


Jake Allsop said...

I guess, to your dog, the scent of carrion is Chanel Numero Cinq. He's only sorry you can't appreciate how lovely he smells aftar he's had a good roll in something dead. De gustibus non disputandum est, as he would say if he knew how.

Chas S. Clifton said...

That would be "she." But can we assume that a dog reasons, "Ah, this smells good. If I roll in it, I can carry the scent with me all day and night"?

Unknown said...

It seems to me that rolling in the stink could have been an evolutionary advantage and thus "learned" a long time ago because it was advantageous and therefore those who rolled were less obvious to their prey and were thereby more successful as predators. Passing their stink loving genes on from generation to generation.

My 2 cents worth.


Steve Bodio said...

I'm with Old Scrote-- I think they LOVE it. What smells good to us is not the same as what smells good to someone who has both a better nose-- and eats carrion without harm.

Chas S. Clifton said...

Steve thinks that dogs love the smell. Certainly they find it interesting...

But if it helped with hunting, we would expect wild canids to role in carrion all the time. After all, they have to live by hunting. My dogs get kibble from a big sack.

Unknown said...

I think you're right in that if this were an evolutionary adaptation, we'd expect wild canids to partake in the same behvior. In "Wolves: Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation" Edited by David Mech and Luigi Boitani there is a mention of "Scent Rolling" and I'll pariphrase it here. I think it'll help. They mention four reasons wild canids (especially wolves) might roll in the stink.

1) Familiarization with novel odors or changes in odors (Fox 1971a; Ryon et al 1896).

2) Strong attraction or aversion to particular odors (Ryon et al. 1986).

3) Concealing one's own scent with something more pungent (Zimmen 1981). (This seems the most plausible to me.)

4) making oneself more attractive by applying a novel odor (Fox 1971a).

There is also mention of female African wild dogs rolling in the urine of males whose packs they are trying to join. Presumably this would make them more familiar smelling and thus more easily accepted by the pack (Frame et al. 1979).

Hope that helps.


Chas S. Clifton said...


Thanks for taking the time to look up those references. I will see if my university library has the book.

Still, how could we explain it through traditional evolution? Would stinky canids really have such an advantage in hunting that they would pass on the "gene for carrion rolling"?

Or, tacking another tack, is there an Intelligent Designer who likes stinky dogs? :-)

Personally, I do believe that there was a separate god(s) for the insect world. But that's another topic.

Unknown said...

In regards to how much of an advantage this stinkiness would aford the canids... I don't think it would have to be a huge advantage, necessarily, if we're talking about hundreds of thousands or even millions of years. I'll have to think about that a bit more though.

You could be right that there's an intelligent designer out there that likes stinky dogs but it'll certainly be hard for science to "test" that one. :)

Glad to have found your blog and to have had this discussion. It's encouraged me to think about something I've wondered about but really never given much thought to.