From the NY Times 10/10/16
“Why do dogs love to roll around in things that smell repulsive?”
“One theory is that their sense of smell is really a complex motor system related to the brain. And so, Dr. Horowitz said, when Finn alights upon a rotting squirrel corpse in the park, the smell that fires up the olfactory lobe in his brain also travels to the motor cortex and tells him to lean his whole body into the found object of desire.
“There’s no ‘noxious scent’ receptor in the dog’s brain,” she added. “But they do seem particularly interested in rolling in smells that we find somewhere between off-putting and disgusting.”
KB: They are getting closer. There are three questions that need to be addressed.(1) Why are rotting things attractive to dogs? (2) Why do dogs roll in such things? (3) Why don’t other animals roll in smelly things?
First of all, why do humans find such things disgusting? For a civilian, gore is repulsive, but a doctor can become inured, in fact he can look into a horrific wound with interest. And he probably didn’t start medical school with that capacity for detachment, so what’s the difference between the civilian and the doctor, between the medical student with their first cadaver and the experienced surgeon? The doctor has not become desensitized, he’s not immune to the degree of suffering attached to a degree of gore, rather, unlike a civilian and some first year medical students he can find order in all that “energy.” In the human mind rotting flesh is repulsive because it is essence not contained by form. The energetic value is imported directly into the mind without benefit of a filter that the intellect normally confabulates around sensory input. Note that if a dog excretes a nicely formed stool, it’s not so bad, but the alternative is not so nice. Dogs don’t have an intellectual filter to comb over the data and so they never make such distinctions. This is because the animal mind is almost always apprehending the essence of a thing within the form of that thing. So when it gets to the essence unadorned by form it’s not repulsed. If a waiter brings you a plate of food nicely separated by form, that’s nice. If the waiter then mashes it up into a slurry with a fork, that’s repulsive. Such a distinction is lost on a dog, he’ll eat either with equal relish.
Visually the essence of a stimulus is revealed through its deportment and movement, but the most reliable detector of essence is the most primordial one, smell. Visually, essence translates into another body’s center-of-gravity, nasally it is anything that oozes, drips or squirts from its form. In short, energy coming into form is the basis of in-form-ation and essence is the closest thing to pure energy to be found in the material realm and thus much prized by animals.
So when a dog finds oozing blood, fresh snow, rotting flesh, there is no resistance between itself and essence and so it seeks to wallow in that feeling of unity and become grounded.
But why so enthusiastically and with all its legs thrashing against the air and ground? As this article points out, the olfactory lobe is directly connected to the motor cortex. The dog is not “leaning” into the stimulus, he is running with it, just as he would with a playmate and connecting essence to essence (center-of-gravity to center-of-gravity) through synchronized motion.
My theory is that emotion works in the mind the same way motion works in the body. Since moving well towards something one wants or away from something one fears is the basis of a metric of well-being, and since maintaining/optimizing a state of well being is the basis of an organism’s evolution and the behavior of any given individual, objects come to mind, the mental process of objectification, as a function of physical movement, specifically, resistance to said movement. So form is resistance to movement, this is how objects come to mind, how sensory input coalesces into structured images embedded with emotional values. Essence is license for movement. A dog drives his body into and around the spot wherein he feels such emotional energization. He is mapping his “locomotive rhythm” onto a specific spot and literally running in place. And since release from tension by overcoming resistance is the basis of reinforcement, and since a dog’s forequarters are central anatomical region for overcoming resistance, the dog is especially driven to get his shoulders into position and then go belly up. The top of the shoulders is where a dog weights the tension of resistance, thus, wallowing in essence upside down, shoulders rolling and grinding the body into the scent, is the completion of the urge for syncopated motion and relieves the dog from the stresses of the day.
Why only the dog? Dogs don’t roll in such things to mask their scent, to indicate the presence of food, for any rational reason whatsoever. They are simply conforming to the way the most basic part of their animal mind is configured. And because dogs are the base emotional code, i.e. how to turn resistance into information, information being collectivized movement, i.e. how to map one’s locomotive rhythm onto objects of resistance, amplified through the wolf’s evolution as a group hunter and the dog’s domestication as a hunting partner of man, dogs are the animal most able to receive the network signal.