Dogs have been peeing on trees, fire hydrants, and various other things for about as long as we've had dogs in our human lives. In medieval times, we assumed that dogs were trying to help us by warding off evil spirits. No, seriously that is exactly what we thought. While society and science have moved on from this perspective in recent years, this behavior can still sometimes baffle the average dog owner. So, why is your dog trying to cover up everything with his own scent? Why are there times that you take him for a walk and you just cannot pull him away from a mailbox or a fire hydrant? Luckily, there exists more than a few explanations for this particular canine proclivity.
The Root of the Behavior
If you are like most pet owners, you probably check the web for information about your pet pretty regularly. The reason you do this is that you're trying to stay current with what is happening in your dog's world, right? Well, it turns out a lot of animal theorists believe this is exactly what your canine companion is doing when he sniffs at another dog's urine. The information they can gather from this single whiff is incredible. They know if it was a male or female dog. They can tell if the previous animal was ill, and can even detect whether or not they were stressed out!
The painstaking efforts made by your loveable mutt to cover up another dog's urine are borderline acrobatic. A lot of dog owners have seen their little guy even do their version of a "handstand" to get as high as possible marking a location. This is based on a behavior called overmarking. They want to be perceived as the most dominant animal around, so they do their best to replace any scent present with their own. This hearkens back to a time when dogs were still primarily living in the wild. These ancient animals had complex hierarchies that were partially communicated via scent. Urine was one of many communicative tools utilized by these long-extinct ancestors.
So your dog seems to be generally over-excited when it comes to overmarking. What gives? Well, this behavior tends to be most prevalent in male dogs who are still able to produce offspring. This is partially due to all of the information contained in dog scent. Your exuberant dog may have picked up on a female in heat! There are very clear markers contained in female canine scenting that indicates this to other animals. Dogs that have been neutered or spayed generally have a harder time picking up on these markers, which means a lot of "indoor" dogs tend to scent and overmark less often.
Encouraging the Behavior
A rather large motivator for this behavior tends to be the fact that your dog's nose tends to be his first tool for communication. The average dog has more than 25 times the smelling power of the average human being. This means that they're incredibly sensitive to odors that we as humans would never even pick up on. The amount of information they gather in every little gust of wind would be mind-boggling for a human brain to process. They also have the gift of being able to distinguish between these smells quite easily. As an example, if you cook a delicious casserole, anyone who smells it will smell the mixture of the ingredients. Your dog, on the other hand, will be able to smell each individual component of your creation. The meat, the veggies, it will all present itself separately to your dog's nose.
Because your dog's nose is such an important communication tool, it's incredibly important to support his forays into scents and scenting. This is a natural process for your dog to engage in and will aid in keeping him stable emotionally. It also doesn't hurt that these behaviors help your dog perceive himself as higher in the pack order. You'll find that they benefit from this.
Other Solutions and Considerations
Something surprising about this process is that your dog will often still seem to prefer smells that are especially pungent. Although this seems counter-intuitive, it's actually something that seems to be pretty easily explained. When dogs were still wild and they came across strong scents, they would roll around in them as a way to disguise themselves from larger predators and competing packs. In modern times, they tend to be attracted to these smells more from a sense of total overload. There's just so much contained in this single scent that it is excessive. This is still a totally acceptable reason for them to get excited.
When it comes right down to it, your dog will probably have these behaviors ingrained forever. And unless he is doing any sort of damage to property, it is really okay to let him mark wherever he needs to. Let him think he is the king of the block, and maybe he will stop marking the flowerbed!
Written by a Pug lover Shane Langenfeld
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 03/02/2018, edited: 01/30/2020