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Why Do Dogs Rub Their Faces On the Ground? 12 Reasons

Like most of our best friends, dogs are superb companions and have lovable quirks. Among them is the habit of sometimes wanting to rub their faces on the ground, whether it be grass, the lounge carpet, or your favorite garden patch at home.

Remember, we’re not talking about dogs merely rolling in the grass here. That’s another perfectly natural behavior in itself. Here we’re looking at dogs specifically rubbing their faces on the ground or floor.

The behavior itself is not abnormal. It is a perfectly natural action that stems from a number of inherited behaviors. Sometimes it’s purely genetic; other times, merely practical. 

However, a few instances may require some attention, which is worth knowing about. So why do dogs rub their faces on the ground? This article will look at all the common and potentially problematic reasons.

There are also some interesting and related factoids about brachycephalic dogs, allergies, and the zoomies!

black dog against green tree

Image by Christina Chiz from Pixabay 

Why do Dogs Rub Their Faces on the Ground? 5 Positive Reasons

There are several perfectly normal and natural reasons for your dog pushing its mug into the turf. As mentioned, they range from instinct to practical. Behavioral reasons are primarily harmless and nothing to be concerned about.

In most cases where the behavior isn’t “natural,” it can almost always be remedied with some action on your part, and some time. Here are the primary (and sometimes oddly humorous) reasons:

1. Instinct

Your dog’s great genetic ancestor, the wolf, deliberately rubbed its face into the ground to do one of two things. The first was to mark a kill and spread that kill’s scent on themselves. Rubbing their faces in the blood or detritus of their prey was an effective way to do this. 

If you notice your dog doing this, especially around feeding time, it may be a subconscious throwback to those heady days they couldn’t remember except through their actions. 

The second was to disguise their scent. Hunting dog breeds sometimes roll around and rub themselves in droppings and muck to disguise their scent from prey. It’s a purely instinctual habit and nothing to be concerned about.  

pug-grass why do dogs rub their faces on the ground

Image by Myléne from Pixabay 

A Note About Dogs, Their Noses and Their Ability to Smell

It’s not an embellishment to say that what smells good to your dog is a mystery to you. Humans have about six million receptors related to odor. Dogs have 100 million. Aside from being able to smell thousands of times better than humans, dogs also have a very highly developed “smell memory.” They can remember smells from a long time ago.

This might account for why they like to cover themselves in other scents or apply their own to objects and areas —- in this case, the ground. 

2. Smelling Good

Dogs can smell a great many times better than we can. Sometimes, something on the ground smells divine, at least to them. This is why they may want to cover themselves in it. 

It perplexes many a dog owner who comes home after a walk in the park with a dog covered in much of what was in the park itself. Some dogs love the smell and texture of grass and turf. 

3. Post Bath Sensations

Many dogs get excited during bath time for positive and negative reasons. Because they have to sit still for much of that time, their energy builds up. Then, when finally released, you may see a dog rub itself urgently on the floor or ground. 

This may be to relieve themselves of the scent of the water or shampoo. It could also be to cope with the sensation of tingling, soapy suds, and wetness. Whichever the case, this is often accompanied by a sensational case of the zoomies. 


Image by Nicole Köhler from Pixabay 

4. The Zoomies

This is usually a burst of high energy at any given time. Some recommend you mitigate the zoomies by spending lots of playtime with your dog or extending their walks to burn up that extra energy. 

Failing to do so may result in sprinting dogs, who rub their faces and bodies into anything and everything in sight in excitement, including the ground.

But are zoomies a good thing? In a word, yes. Zoomies are excess energy that needs to be burned off quickly. Like a bath, an adrenaline rush is a common cause for a quick burst of zoomies. Dogs may suddenly start darting about during feeding time, just before bed (irritating for humans), or during training. In general, it’s a happy moment.

A zoomie is also known as a ‘Frenetic Random Activity Period’ or FRAP.  Incidentally, cats have them, too. 

5. Face Wash Moment

Dogs do not have opposable thumbs, so effectively washing their faces can be challenging. Thankfully, the ground provides an extensive and convenient surface upon which to scratch their face. 

Food particles or bits of plants and seeds can itch, irritate, and generally feel yucky for a dog. Paw cleaning isn’t enough sometimes.

Something to be aware of: A dog’s self-grooming is nothing like a cat’s. Chances are that if a dog licks its fur or body, it feels itchy, irritated, or even painful. Anything more than a minute or two of this behavior might indicate the presence of a potential irritant. 

labrador- nose

Photo by Engin Akyurt: 

When Do Dogs Rub their faces on the Ground? 7 Not-so-Positive reasons

From time to time, your dog may signal a problem when it pushes and rubs its face into the ground. Many of them are not severe, but it’s worth understanding the potential issues can be remedied with some simple action. You should give the problem more severe attention in one or two cases. 

1. CCD Behavior

Canine Compulsive Disorder (CCD) affects some dogs, and can cause your pup to rub their faces on the ground a lot. In essence, it describes any behavior the dog cannot stop and spontaneously exhibits without reason. Experts cite a particular area of the brain that is affected. Several triggers may also be at play, including stress, genetic disposition, other medical problems, and so on. 

Sometimes, this behavior can be addressed by long-term remedial training, medication, or therapeutic intervention. 


Photo by Pixabay

2. Allergic Stressors

It’s not altogether uncommon for pets to have allergic reactions to something. That could range from their food to environmental triggers or even detergents (do you use hypoallergenic shampoos?) Skin, eye, or ear irritation could all result in scratchy instincts to rub on the ground and relieve itchy faces. 

3. Parasite Presence

Fleas, ticks, and mites can find a home on any dog. Your doggo might try to scratch them with a face rub on the floor if they become problematic around the face and ears. Keep an eye out for unusual hair loss, scabs, irritated skin, and weepy eyes.

How can you tell that there might be a parasite present? Look out for some additional indicators like: 

  • Scratching 
  • Itchiness
  • Reddening of skin (Irritation).
  • Scabs from scratching
  • Hair loss from excessive scratching and biting
  • Excessive biting and chewing of limbs and skin.

Vets will generally recommend a safe parasite-control shampoo. More severe cases may require a specifically medicated formula. 


Photo by Blue Bird

4. Teething Problems

Young pups suffer from the same teething discomfort that human babies do. When those gums itch, it can be annoying, so a desperate measure is to rub their faces on the floor to alleviate the irritation.

One way to help is to invest in an excellent chew toy — the pup may prefer to gnaw on that instead. It may also prevent your favorite shoes or pieces of furniture from falling victim to the dreaded Hound of Itchy Gums. 

Initial teething can occur from as young as two weeks old in a pup. In addition, they will begin to lose “baby teeth” at around 4-5 months. 

5. Other Dental Problems

Odd as it may sound, a dog might be rubbing its facial area on the ground to deal with dental issues like tooth decay. Pain related to broken teeth or decay may cause such behavior.

Dental disease is not uncommon in dogs. More than 80% of them suffer from at least some minor dental issue by the time they reach three. This is another reason vets will routinely look at your dog’s teeth during its annual wellness examination.

Some dogs have also been known to rub their faces on the ground to loosen odd bits of food stuck between their teeth. 


Image by Couleur from Pixabay 

6. Collar Discomfort

If a collar is causing irritation or discomfort or is simply a new addition to your pup’s life, it may want to get rid of the annoyance. In effect, it may be trying to rub it off. Collars can also be annoying if they are too big or too small. 

A good rule of thumb is to see if your thumb can comfortably fit between the collar and your dog’s neck. Too loose or too tight? Change it up for a safer or better-quality collar

7. Infection

Infections can have several possible causes. If left unchecked, fleas, ticks, and other parasites can cause more severe illnesses related to broken skin. As mentioned before, allergies left untended may develop into more severe conditions. The irritation from collars is another possibility.

Whatever the case, infections are annoying and potentially dangerous. The pup might be trying to alleviate pain and discomfort by rubbing its infected areas (in this case, a muzzle area) on an abrasive or cooling surface like the ground. 


Image by David Mark from Pixabay 

A Note on Brachycephalic Breeds

Brachycephalic breeds are dogs characterized by “squished” faces – think Imperial Shih Tzus, Pugs, Bulldogs, Boston Terriers, and so on. These dogs have particular trouble reaching their faces with their tongues, not to mention the folds in their respective muzzles. 

They are sometimes more likely to do some face-rubbing sessions to loosen food, debris, or unwelcome parasites and bacteria from their faces. It’s also worth noting that these breeds tend to “tear” more from their eyes, which also causes more rubbing in turn. 

Final Thoughts on Why Dogs Rub Their Faces On the Ground

If your dog seems happy and excited to be out and about, you will not have to worry about it rubbing its face on the ground. Usually, it’s a purely instinctive behavior that requires no additional attention. That is to say unless you have a pup that loves the mud and muck of the local park. In such a case, invest in lots of dog shampoo.

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