Dogs smell. But sometimes dogs can smell significantly worse than other times. What’s going on when your dog goes outside and returns smelly?

There are actually a lot of reasons your dog could stink after going outside. Some of them are easy things to fix — others are a bit more challenging.

Why does my dog stink after going outside?

There are essentially two things that could be happening, with varied causes. One, your dog could be making the smell. Two, your dog could have encountered the smell. Whether it’s an environmental issue or a dog-related issue will control how you react.

Your Dog Has Absorbed Odors from Outside

Dog hair can absorb smells from outside pretty easily. Your dog may smell like the pollution in the air or like other outdoor smells, such as nearby traffic. It’s because dog hair is composed of hollow shafts, which can fill up with air and the scent from the air. It’s also because dogs frequently have an undercoat, which can also absorb scents. The more fur your dog has, the more likely this is to be the culprit.

Your Dog Has Rolled in the Dirt

Dogs will almost automatically roll in dirt once they get outside. Dirt can be soothing to their skin as well as cool. It attaches to excess oils in their fur and helps them keep clean. But it also has bacteria in it. Humans can be particularly sensitive to the smell of this type of bacteria. If your dog is covered in dirt, you know why they don’t smell so fresh.

Your Dog Got Into Trash (or Dead Animals)

Dogs will also often roll in trash or dead animals. Dogs love smelly things, the smellier the better. This is a method of scent-marking their prey. They aren’t trying to smell like the trash or the dead animals, quite the opposite. They’re trying to get their own scent all over it so that other dogs know that it’s theirs. Dogs will pretty much roll on anything that they want to keep, so you need to watch your dog carefully. Rolling in trash and dead animals isn’t just disgusting, but it can also be dangerous. It can expose them to pests, pathogens, and even poisons depending on what’s in the trash and what killed the animal.

Your Dog May Have Become Wet

Dogs do smell more when they become wet. If your dog was rained on outside or ran through the morning dew, it’s possible that the smell is just temporary. Your dog should smell less as it dries off. You may have noticed that when you bathe your dog, your dog still smells pretty unpleasant (“wet dog smell”) regardless of the amount of product you use. Dogs just smell more when they’re wet and you can’t tell whether they’re clean or not until they’ve fully dried. You can use a hair dryer on your dog on its “cold” setting to hasten the process.

Your Dog May Have Been Marking

If your dog was marking the neighborhood and surrounding areas, it’s possible that it got some of the marking oils on itself. Dogs mark using glands, many of which are in their bottoms. These glands can start to leak marking oils when a dog has been marking. This usually leads to a musty or fishy odor. You may want to call your vet if this odor persists, because it could mean an infection or backup of the glands.

Your Sense of Smell May Be Better

Have you ever come back to your house after a long vacation and noticed an odor that wasn’t present before? If you’re subjected to something frequently, you become “nose blind.” If you’ve been inside your house with your dog, you may not be smelling your dog anymore. It’s possible that a long walk outside has “reset” you and you’re now smelling your dog more even though your dog still technically smells the same.

Dogs are going to smell sometimes. But it should never be an offensively bad odor. If it’s something that a trip to the bathtub can’t fix, you might need to inquire with your vet.

How do I keep my dog from smelling after going outside?

To a certain extent, you can’t keep your dog from smelling like a dog a hundred percent of the time. But you can help it from getting completely offensive.

Watch Your Dog Carefully

If your dog is getting into things like trash and dead animals, the best solution is to watch them carefully. You can then prevent them from rubbing up against anything that they shouldn’t be touching. It’s not always possible to stop your dog from doing things like rolling in the dirt (especially if they really want to), but at least you’ll know exactly what contributed to the odor (and consequently you will be less concerned about it).

Give Your Dog a Bath

A nice bath could be exactly what your dog needs to get clean again. But keep in mind that most dogs shouldn’t be washed more than once a month or two. Dogs have natural oils on their skin and fur. If you strip them out through bathing too frequently, you could not only make them uncomfortable, but stimulate excess oil production. In other words, your dog will actually become smellier. When washing your dog, only use products that are safe for animals.

Change Your Dog’s Food

You are what you eat. A dog’s food can also contribute to an odor. You may want to experiment with different types of food, especially those that are meant for healthier skin and healthier coats. These may help give your dog the natural oils that it needs to fight off environmental odors. You can ask your vet about prescription foods that may make your dog’s smell a little more tolerable, or recommendations regarding food to avoid.

It could also be that you’ve become more sensitive to your dog’s scent, so you might want to ask someone else about whether the odor seems egregious. 

Why does my dog smell so bad after a walk?

After a walk, your dog has ideally exercised.

Commonly, your dog is going to smell because it’s worked up a sweat. It may also smell because it’s absorbed odors from the surrounding area, such as pollution. And your dog could smell because, while you were completely unaware, it rolled around in something like dog poop or a dead animal.

If your dog frequently smells bad after a walk, it could be that your dog’s anal glands need to be expressed. These glands can start to leak during a walk or when your dog goes to the bathroom. Your dog could also have urinated on itself accidentally or otherwise made a mess.

But there’s good news. It has an easy solution. If your dog smells powerfully after a walk, you can toss him or her in the bath and your dog should be as good as new in no time at all.

Why does my dog smell like fish after being outside?

There are two likely culprits if your dog smells like fish after being outside, one more likely than the other.

First, it could just be that your dog has worked up a sweat and you’re reacting to the smell of sweat on your dog’s skin and fur. This should be a fairly mild odor and it can be resolved through the use of pet wipes or through a fast bath. But, usually, sweat has more of a “dog” smell than a fishy odor.

More likely is that the fishy odor is coming from your dog’s anal glands. When dogs use the bathroom, they express their anal glands. They may also express their anal glands while marking. A dog’s scent is like its calling card. It uses it to tell other dogs “I’m here!”

The issue, unfortunately, is glands can get blocked and may not fully express. If your dog smells like fish consistently it’s possible that its glands are backed up. You’re going to need to get these glands expressed by a professional — either a veterinarian or a groomer.

You don’t want to do this unless it becomes absolutely necessary. Once you start having your dog’s anal glands expressed, you usually have to continue doing it, because it gets harder for them to express it naturally. If your dog is having digestion issues, it may not be properly expressing its anal glands, too; it could be a temporary situation. Your vet will know.

But if your dog’s anal glands are backed up, you do want to express them. Because if you don’t, your dog will likely start scooting itself around on the floor and trying to express them on their own!

Author

I created and currently manage Pet Dog Owner, the website you can go to when you have questions about your dog's behavior. It is my hope that you find Pet Dog Owner to be a helpful resource. It is also my hope that it will help you to improve your relationship with your dog. You can read more about me and my website here.