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From time to time, and in what appear to be completely random intervals not apparently connected to any particular events, my dog decides to rub itself in other dogs' crap when I take it for a walk.

Is there a particular reason for dogs to do this?
Also, (and aside from just pulling on its leash when I see it's about to happen) is there a way to prevent them from having this behaviour? I ask this second question because I have no idea what kind of instinct leads a dog to do this.

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+50

@Keshlam has it mostly correct.

Dog's ancestors, wolves, will do a Scent Roll in order to show/bring the scent to another wolf "Hey look at this!".

Broken instinct, yes.

As for predicting, you're doing the best one can. I might recommend a strong "No" while you tug, also, to help curb the undesired behavior.

If you allow your dog to scent roll, sure, he'll roll in poop a couple of times, but he won't be trying to roll in every pile of poop there is.

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Broken instinct. Wild predators roll in herbivore dung to mask their scent. Dogs remember that this is something wolves did, but get the details wrong.

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    Do you have any reliable sources that you can point me to regarding this broken instinct thing? – JNat Aug 6 '15 at 19:43
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    I wouldn't call it broken instinct either. They're still canine and predators even though they're pets. They've spent more time in their evolution doing this for a "useful purpose" than living in house or appartment. The few hundreds years don't count for much compared to the thousands of years in which they evolved as hunter companion. In some countries, these primary behaviors are greatly appreciated and rewarded. Their sense of smell is also the main part of how they see and make sense of the world. – go-junta Aug 13 '15 at 11:46
  • It's still an incorrect/incomplete version of the instinct -- they should be picking up prey scent, not that of other predators. If your dog is rolling in the cow manure you just spread in the garden, that's correct from the wolf point of view. It it smells like another dog's butt, that really isn't useful. Or that's my understanding anyway; @rlb.usa may have different/better insights. – keshlam Aug 13 '15 at 13:47

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