You’ve known ever since your first dog as a child, that your pup lifts his (and sometimes her) leg to pee. On your walk after work, you know your dog will lift his leg and squat. Your dog sees that fire hydrant, tree, tire, unsuspecting friend’s leg who is standing talking to you, or anything else vertical and lifts his leg to leave his mark. But where does this behavior stem from? What has made it so your dog lifts his leg? Why does he pee on vertical objects? Going to the bathroom didn’t seem so complicated until you started pondering this, did it?
The Root of the Behavior
Male dogs start lifting their leg to urinate when they are approximately 6-12 months old. Both neutered and non-neutered dogs will lift their legs, but it is more common for a neutered dog to squat. For the dog, it’s all about personal preference and their message. When dogs urinate, they are doing more than the necessary bodily function of relieving themselves. The dog uses urine to mark his territory and tell other dogs “I was here.” By peeing, he sends a detailed message to the animal community. Dogs learn so much more from urine and other scents because their noses have almost 300 million olfactory receptors. Mere humans have only six million. With their sophisticated noses, they can learn a lot from each other’s pee. Dogs’ pee contains info about their gender, if he’s spayed or neutered, stress level, health, and social status. This is a lot of important info to share and just like wording your most recent social media post, he wants to get it just right. And that means he’ll do a three-legged dance if he has to. Lifting his leg gives your dog the ability to aim his pee higher. A dog’s social status can be determined by the height of their mark. A small dog will have a lower mark and a bigger dog will have a higher one. To have a strong presence, dogs want their mark to be as high as possible. By lifting his leg, he gets optimal aim to show his stature. A dog will also choose to urinate on vertical objects, such as trees, poles, or hydrants because scents last longer on them. To get the placement just right, your dog will lift his leg so he marks the spot he wants. If a dog makes a puddle in the grass, that scent can go away rather quickly.
Encouraging the Behavior
Lifting a leg to stand on three and pee is a behavior that does not need to be modified or worried about. As long as your dog is not peeing in unwarranted places, lifting his leg should be fine. This natural and healthy behavior lets your dog participate as a member of the animal community. He feels good knowing his message is there and that he is marking as high as he can. Leaving his message doesn’t take a lot of urine, which is sometimes why you’ll see your dog lift a leg on every tree and pole possible. When he does this, he’s leaving a brief message, but also using his body language to tell other dogs walking by that he is establishing a presence. While this stop-and-go type peeing can disrupt a walk, it’s not doing harm to your dog. However, if you want your walk to be a smooth and continuous one, consider talking to a trainer about how to walk your dog. Some tips to consider are keeping the leash short and walking in front or beside your dog, not behind him. By doing this, you’ll establish dominance and send a message to your dog that you’re in charge of the walk.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If your dog is struggling to pee with his leg up, he might be experiencing pain and you should take him to a vet to make sure he is healthy. If your dog is peeing in inappropriate places, like the side of the couch or furniture, neighbors’ lawns, or on anything vertical like human legs, you should talk to a trainer. The trainer can address house training tips and inappropriate urination, as it can be a result of something physical or emotional. If you’re struggling with walking your dog because he stops to pee constantly, the trainer can help you establish good walking habits with your dog.
When you do your thing on the throne, nobody tells you how to do it. You shouldn’t tell your dog how to do his business either. If he wants to raise that leg, let him. The only thing you might want to tell him is where to go if he’s not in the right spot.