If you're a dog owner, you've probably been walking your dog at one point or another and noticed your dog specifically seeking out fire hydrants. They circle it a few times, and then promptly urinate over its surface. So, what is it about the fire hydrant that is just so attractive to dogs? Is there something about the shape, the paint, or do they really just like peeing on metal things? While there aren't any definitive answers, a lot of conjecture exists that points in multiple directions. Below are outlines of some of the more prevalent causes put forth by animals behaviorists and veterinarians.
The Root of the Behavior
One of the foremost explanations for this behavior is that your dog is catching the scent of another animal. Canines are genetically disposed to marking their territory with urine. In ancient times, this served as a form of communication to other dogs letting them know territorial borders. If you have yet to "fix" your dog, the instinct for territorial marking will in most cases be noticeably stronger. If you own a female dog in heat, quite often visiting dogs will mark the places that she might normally lie. Dog owners who get their animals at a young age won't see these sort of behaviors until adolescence or beyond. Another type of urination often perpetrated by your pup is something referred to as overmarking. This will often occur when your dog catches the scent of a wild animal or neighbor dog. In these cases, they will often purposefully urinate over the previously scented area. For your dog, the purpose is to erase the former scent and replace it with his or her own. Doing so also communicates the statement that he's higher up in the pack order.
If you got your dog from a shelter, consideration should be paid to its origins. It is entirely possible that they never learned how to urinate indoors. Dogs that have spent 10 years peeing wherever they please are going to be pretty confused upon learning that that's no longer acceptable. This can be remedied with a strong sense of dedication to your dog's behavior. if you're unsure about proper training techniques, this is a great question for your vet. It's also true that your canine companion could just be getting really pumped about something. When your dog experiences something emotionally, it can externalize itself with urination. When this happens, it is often paired with its ears rolling back or a full body quiver. This is almost always a sign of more problems down the road, and should be brought to your vet's attention.
Encouraging the Behavior
So what is it about the fire hydrants that gets your dog all excited? Turns out, it could actually be the dyes inside of the paint used for most municipal hydrants. A lot of veterinarians have suggested that something in the scent actually smells "sweet" to your canine, and replicates canine urine to a certain degree. While this certainly wasn't planned by the cities themselves, it is terribly ironic. You can usually see this sort of behavior in action when you have your dog outside for a moderate length of time. It's an unusual behavior for them to be marking things inside of your house. For female canines, you can sometimes see peeing when they are entering heat. Of course, this only happens if you haven't had your dog spayed. If you're a canine breeder, a dog that's carrying a litter can have hormone imbalances that will confuse their normal instincts. Oftentimes, they can even urinate on their own markings because their noses aren't operating as they usually do. So what about those emergency situations where your dog can't stop ruining your possessions with its pee? Doggie doors seem to be a hugely popular options. They're basically reinforced baby gates, and can keep your dog restricted to "safe" areas.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Another option are doggy diapers. They come in a variety of sizes, and don't restrict your dog's movement. They will, however, restrict the ability for it to pee on anything you deem important or valuable. These are sold primarily online, or can be special ordered through your vet. If your dog's urination is only part of the problem, you may want to get additional tests done. Bladder issues can often be causing sudden incontinence. If you notice that your dog is licking it's sensitive areas more than it usually does, this is yet another issue to bring up at your dog's normal vet checkup.
So if your dog enjoys spotting fire hydrants in the neighborhood, it’s probably fine to just let him do what he wants. Dogs are always going to have nuanced proclivities that can often be confusing. But if you let his love for hydrants grow, maybe one day you’ll find out you have a firefighter for a dog!
Written by a Shiba Inu lover Patty Oelze
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/10/2018, edited: 01/30/2020