Going to the bathroom for a dog isn’t as straightforward as sitting down, letting it out, and flushing it all down a drain. The world is a dog’s bathroom, and if you have ever watched your dog sniff along an invisible trail before finally settling in to go number two, then you should know that there’s more going on than just finding a nice patch of green to squat over. Dogs experience the world primarily through their sense of smell, and a dog’s poo carries a strong smell, to say the least. Your dog might sniff, circle, and false start a few times while you watch and wonder what could possibly be going on. Here are some things that your dog is sniffing for before it takes care of business.
The Root of the Behavior
Going to the bathroom is a very public affair for dogs. For most, it’s all about marking territory. Every dog produces its own unique scent from glands located on either side of the anus. Though invisible to humans, these scents can be found anywhere that dogs go number one or number two. In other words, they can be found anywhere! When you let your dog outside to go to the bathroom, your dog will most likely begin investigating the most current catalog of smells and scents laid down by both itself and others. The locations of poop and scents are like a map of territories and borders, and the interesting part is that this world is constantly changing. Your dog is constantly assessing and reassessing its own placement of scents according to the area that it is in. Dogs can gain a plethora of information about local inhabitants and the surrounding environment from just one good sniff of another dog’s urine or feces. In this sense, spending some time sniffing around before going to the bathroom is like checking social media and reading the local news all wrapped up into one. A pile of dog poo—though unattractive and unsightly to most humans—can tell your dog when the dog responsible was last in the area, whether or not the dog was in a friendly or unfriendly mood, what food there might be lying around, and whether or not there is any cause for concern in the area. Of course, in most cases the message is simply territorial, letting other dogs know who’s king of the park. When it comes to deciding where to mark territory, your dog could be sniffing for unclaimed land to lay claim to, or for another dog’s weakening mark that it would like to place its own mark over. Your dog also shares all of the information about the environment that it learns from others. If something scares your dog while it is outside, it may take a moment to mark that there is something of concern nearby. This is one of many reasons why your dog might sniff around, then false start, then continue sniffing before pooping. Since the scent is released by both urine and feces, your dog might take some time to split its bathroom time into different areas.
Encouraging the Behavior
Sniffing is an integral part of a dog’s life, and you simply will not be able to prevent your dog from smelling its way through life. Trying to get your dog to stop smelling the roses would be like trying to stop another human from using their eyes to look around and observe the world around them. If your dog is taking a particularly long time to sniff around before pooping—for example, longer than ten minutes—then it is possible that your dog is holding in its poop to get more outdoor time. In this case, you should consider finding a way to allow your dog to spend more time outside. Once going outside is normal for your dog, they will stop associating it as a reward, and they will get to business much faster. If your dog has not been neutered, you may notice that your dog’s sniffing patterns are periodic. When a female is in heat, she releases pheromones in addition to her usual scent that let male dogs know that she is seeking a mate. Your dog might respond to the call and bound off or begin acting strangely in an attempt to locate this female. If you are not planning on having your dog neutered, you may simply have to put up with this behavior and do your best to make sure that nothing is born out of your dog’s efforts. Of course, dogs who have been neutered are not likely to respond to these pheromones, though some may act strangely upon discovering the scent.
Other Solutions and Considerations
If you have a regular walking route, or frequent a dog park, you may notice that your dog stops at exactly the same spot every day to poop. In this case, your dog is competing for territory with another dog! The two dogs are most likely laying down their scents on top of one another’s, and both feel possessive of the location. Encountering the other dog may lead to a confrontation, but this depends on the dogs in question. In order to avoid this, you can try encouraging your dog to find new territory to mark. After a while, it will forget that it laid claim to the original spot and will go on enjoying its area provided that other dogs heed the message and stay clear!
It might seem strange that your dog uses its bathroom time to engage with and participate in the world and its dog community, but the idea isn’t so foreign to human beings anymore. Next time you go to the bathroom, catch up on the news of the day and see if it doesn’t make you feel more a part of the greater surrounding community. You might stumble upon a new food place for both you and your dog to enjoy!