The Smell of Happiness: Why Dogs Like Things That Stink
Each morning, our dogs accompany us on our walk to the horse barn. My wife and I have shared our lives with many animals over our long and happy marriage, and our walk always makes me think of the dogs no longer with us, like our much-missed black Labrador, Sirloin.
While we would carry our cups of coffee, Sirloin usually carried a toy, a piece of a tree or something dead in his mouth. Once we got up to the barn, Sirloin would be ready to top off his tummy tank with some canine haute cuisine, diving head first into a fresh pile of horse dung. After cleansing his palate, he would then flop on his back, rolling fervently, as if he had a really bad itch and the horse apples were a bed of nails. Yes, we loved this dog.
The menu at our Cafe McMutts then, as now, featured dead mice, dead birds, assorted dung and the skeletal remains of various forest animals. These dietary indiscretions might freak out some people, but I've lived on a ranch my whole life, as has Teresa, and we think of them as kind of cute. Or we did, until the day Sirloin went too far in his journey to smell hell.
Is That What I Think It Is?
Early one morning, I glanced out the kitchen window and noticed Sirloin gnawing on something black and furry. At first I thought it was just one of his toys, but then I walked out to investigate. As I approached, Sirloin abandoned his snack and raced over to greet me, wiggling with delight. He jumped up and gave me a wet kiss like a hormonally supercharged teenager. Though this type of greeting was routine, this time his breath was — shall we say? — revolting.
I knew the smell: skunk.
Sirloin retrieved his newest chew toy. It was a rotten skunk carcass teeming with maggots. Let me tell you, it was enough to turn even the cast-iron stomach of this veteran veterinarian. As I retreated in disgust, Sirloin followed me, with a thought bubble above his head that seemed to read, "Aren't ya proud of me, Dad? Isn't this just the neatest thing I've ever brought home?" Sirloin, of course, didn't think the dead skunk stunk; to him it was just another sample of Ken-nelle No. 5.
Though experts aren't sure why dogs like to roll in stinky stuff and eat rotten things, some believe that pets are marking themselves with their most prized possessions, guaranteed to impress all their two- and four-legged friends. It's like being a furry Fabio with a big gold chain and a shirt unbuttoned to below the rib cage. Wearing stinky stuff is like a designer label for pets.
A Nose That Knows
Dogs not only have millions more scent receptors than humans do, they are also polar opposites from us when it comes to choosing scents that attract rather than repel. Though we like aromas that are fresh, floral and fragrant, our dogs prefer the dirty, dead and disgusting, or the rank, rancid and revolting. And just as my wife enjoys dabbing herself with a favorite perfume, Sirloin enjoyed dousing himself with his favorite fur-pume — in this case, skunk. Teresa puts on perfume to impress her friends; Sirloin loved his barnyard bouquet and, in much the same way, applied it to impress his friends, too.
To us it's disgusting — to them, it's divine. After thousands of years of evolution, dogs continue to go boldly where no man (or woman) has gone before on the journey to find the scent-sational. Ol' Sirloin never understood why I didn't appreciate his skunky prize that long-ago day. And he certainly never understood why the next thing I did was scrub him until only the memory of that stench remained.
And it does. Oh, yes, it does!