Walking into the bathroom, you catch your dog in an awkward, embarrassing position.
That’s right… it’s rolling its muzzle all over your favorite soap- again!
You can’t help but wonder, “Why does my dog rub his face on soap?”
There are only a couple of plausible reasons for why your dog rubs his face on soap.
For example, this seemingly strange behavior can be an attempt to relieve anxiety. Since the soap may also have your scent on it, your best friend may find it especially comforting.
In other cases, your dog may be participating in an instinctual behavior known as ‘scent rolling’. This is a behavior linked to their ancestral DNA- going all the way back to when there were only wolves.
While rolling in soap isn’t a very harmful activity, you may still want to prevent it as much as possible before it potentially becomes obsessive. This is even more important if the soap contains troublesome ingredients, such as aromatic or coconut oils.
Prevention can be achieved through a variety of methods, such as counter-conditioning, behavior training, and simply replacing the soap with something safer for your dog to roll on!
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Anxiety relief and soap rubbing may not seem connected in any way. To understand this odd relationship, we have to understand a dog’s evolutionary history.
Dogs are descendants of wolves, and wolves exist in family packs. Typically consisting of a male, a female, and offspring of various ages, a wolf pack provides vital social structure. Just like humans rely on family and friends, wolves need each other.
To identify pack members, wolves use scent. If a pack member leaves for any reason, the other wolves in the pack can track them down via their personal odor.
Dogs haven’t lost their ancestor’s sniffing capabilities. Scientists estimate a dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 – 100,000 times more accurate than ours. That means they can probably pick up the scent of your soap long after you get out of the shower.
Even to this day, dogs love pack-like relationship structures. This could explain why your dog wants to rub his face on your soap. They see you as a pack member, and likely the pack leader. So, anything that smells like you signals security and comfort.
If you find your dog gets into your soap when you’re out of the house, he likely connects the smell of your soap to your personal scent. They’re probably rubbing against it to relieve anxiety when you’re away.
If you find that your dog is rubbing his face in soap even when you’re home, it probably doesn’t have to do with anxiety relief. Instead, it may be an instinctual behavior. Dogs and their wolf ancestors engage in a behavior known as scent rolling.
Scent rolling is more common, or at least more noticeable when dogs roll in foul-smelling things. Lots of pups, when let off-leash, will run towards the nearest pile of dung or rotting flesh and gleefully roll around in it- much to their owner’s dismay.
However, scent rolling isn’t restricted to objects that reek. Any curious or strong smell can lead a canine to scent rolling, and that includes soap.
Rolling around in an odorous substance seems odd from a human perspective, but the instinct is understandable from a dog’s point of view. Though vets and scientists aren’t entirely sure, it’s thought that scent rolling is linked to pack communication.
When a wolf discovers a new smell, they tend to stop, drop, and roll around in it. They’re trying to attach the scent to their coat. Later, when that wolf rejoins their pack, the other wolves will investigate the novel odor.
Your dog may not have a real pack to share the scent news with, but that doesn’t mean the instinct goes away. The behavior is ingrained in their doggy DNA! If they encounter an exciting smell, everything in them says they should roll or rub against it. It just feels good.
If you want to stop your dog from rubbing her face on your soap, you’ll have to identify why they’re doing it.
If it’s due to separation anxiety, you can use specific training techniques to stop or change the behavior.
If your dog is scent rolling on soap, it can be harder to stop them. After all, they’re simply following their instincts. However, there are still things you can do to limit the soap rubbing.
Many dogs experience separation anxiety when their owner leaves the house for any reason. According to the ASPCA, owners may reduce or eliminate separation anxiety through counter-conditioning or desensitization.
In counter-conditioning, the goal is to link your leaving with some sort of special and time-consuming reward. Puzzle toys with treats inside seem to work best for this.
A rubber Kong toy filled with frozen peanut butter or cream cheese can keep a dog happy and occupied for hours. That means they’ll stay out of the soap in your shower!
Of course, it’s vital to take the toy away as soon as you’re home. That way, your pup only links the treat to you being gone.
In desensitization, dog owners use graduated absences to slowly condition their pets to being alone. This takes time, patience, and regular training.
While your dog is learning to be okay at home alone, you’ll want to keep the bathroom door shut. Otherwise, they’ll likely return to their soap rubbing ways the moment they become upset.
If your dog is scent rolling in your soap, there’s only so much you can do. Scent rolling is instinctual and tends not to stop.
When a wolf decides a smell is intriguing, scientists observe them returning to the same spot, over and over again- rolling in it every single time!
Proper training can help you control the behavior, though. Especially effective is a well-trained recall. Recall simply refers to your dog’s ability to come when called.
Most dogs will come when you call their name at dinner time. But if they’ve found something exciting, like your brand new bar of soap, they might ignore your summons.
To train a dog in recall, it’s essential to do two things:
- Praise them every time they come to you, even if you didn’t call them.
- Don’t give them an opportunity to ignore you.
The first part is easy enough. When your dog comes up to you, whether you call them or not, you say “Good girl!” and give them a friendly pet.
The second part can be harder, but it’s important. If your dog is preoccupied with the bar of Irish Spring soap you just unwrapped, don’t call them away.
Instead, walk up and grab their collar, present them with a treat, and lead them away from the distracting scent.
Over time, your dog will learn that coming to you results in a reward. This won’t stop them from scent rolling completely, but it gives you more control.
If your pup is biting into your soap and not just rubbing against it, you may have a different issue.
Another possibility is that your dog may have a nutritional deficiency that leads them to chew on odd substances. This is otherwise known as ‘pica’– a condition that drives dogs to attempt to eat the inedible. Talk to your vet about possible causes and fixes.
If you find yourself asking, time and time again, “Why does my dog rub his face on soap?”– hopefully you’ve found your answer in this article today.
When a dog rubs its face on soap, it is most like due to one of two reasons: anxiety relief or ‘scent-rolling’.
Both have links to behavior and instinct, and though it may be annoying, neither are harmful to your pup.
So, don’t worry too much! However, if you do want to limit this activity, it is possible to do so through methods such as counter-conditioning, desensitization, and obedience training.
Heather Abraham is an owner of two dogs, one cat, a leopard gecko, and a parrot (who her dad still cannot teach bad words to), and an avid blogger. From the time she was a young girl, she always felt a connection with pets. She brings her love of every type of pet to you, with information on animal nutrition, medication, toys, beds, and everything else in between. Along with newly-on-board veterinarian DVM editor Elena, she puts pups first while offering other various fun tidbits along the way.