Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, former veterinarian assistant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."
Research Unveils Peeing Positions in Dogs
Dog-peeing positions: Who would have ever thought about this topic? We often think we know everything there is to know about dogs, but it seems like there is always something new to learn about them.
When it comes to their elimination habits, most of us probably don’t think much about them, as long as it doesn’t happen in the neighbor’s yard. I mean who really pays attention to what a dog is doing during elimination, right?
Recently, however, researchers have begun to investigate the ritualistic art of peeing in dogs, and its relationship to gender, environment, health, and other areas of a dog’s life.
And when it comes to dogs, there are never rules set in stone. For us humans, it isn’t untypical to assume that the female dog squats and the male dog lifts its leg. This can be a surprising misconception though, as some dogs do the reverse while others do both depending on their environment, health, and other external and internal factors.
Still, other dogs turn this basic bodily function of peeing into an art-form likened to a circus trick, complete with headstand and other acrobatics.
So, what has research discovered so far? Read on to find out.
First Off, How Many Peeing Positions Are There in Dogs?
Believe it or not, dogs' peeing positions have been studied in-depth as far as 1973. Courtesy of researchers Sprague and Anisko, who studied how many urinating postures were found to be exhibited by dogs of either gender, we now know that dogs may display as many as a dozen peeing postures.
Here is the list of them:
- Stand: The dog is peeing in a standing position.
- Lean: The dog is peeing by leaning forward.
- Raise: The dog is peeing by simply raising the leg.
- Elevate: The typical male posture, the dog is peeing by lifting the leg above the hip.
- Flex: The dog is peeing by flexing the rear legs.
- Squat: The typical female posture, the dog is peeing by squatting down with the legs flexed more.
- Lean raise: The dog is peeing by leaning forward but also lifts the leg.
- Flex-raise: The dog is peeing by raising the leg and flexing it.
- Handstand: The dog is peeing by lifting both rear legs.
- Arch: The dog is peeing by arching the back while the back legs are bent.
- Squat-raise: The dog is peeing by squatting and raising the rear leg.
- Arch-raise: The dog is peeing by arching and raising the leg.
As the saying goes, a picture is worth one thousand words, so below you can see what these dog peeing positions exactly look like. Just don't try these positions at home!
The Role of Gender in Dog Peeing
While gender isn’t a foundation or basis for any particular behavior in any species, in the dog world, some traits are clear for each gender.
Since peeing for dogs is sometimes thought of as sexually dimorphic behavior, male dogs are known for lifting their leg to pee, while females are most often known for squatting.
These patterns are also seen in other animals and humans based predominately on our anatomical differences.
Why Do Male Dogs Lift Their Legs to Pee?
One theory has it that dogs lift their legs to pee because this position grants a protective action to prevent an over-splash during the process. On top of this, this position allows dogs to direct their urine and their scent exactly where they want it to go, most likely on a variety of vertical surfaces. Yup, we're talking about the habit of urine marking, here.
The pee is strategically placed on vertical surfaces so other dogs can examine it, conveniently finding it at nose-level. It's as if these dogs are people leaving their business cards on bulletin boards, aiming to place them at eye-level so that they're easily noticeable.
Yup, that's why dogs pee on car tires, bushes, utility poles, and the quintessential fire hydrant during a short walk through the neighborhood! Maximus was here, Maximus was here, Maximus was here and here and here and here! Yes, Maximus was everywhere!
Why Do Female Dogs Squat to Pee?
While the male dog is thought to pee for the purpose of urine marking, as noted above, female dogs are often thought to pee just for elimination. Anyone who owns a female dog knows this is a myth; research shows that female dogs also use elimination to scent mark.
A study of six unaltered non-breeding female Jack Russell terriers showed that during walks, they were more likely to scent mark objects. This occurred when they were on walks that took them away from their home territory.
This proves that a male dog isn’t the only gender to scent mark and that a female dog doesn't have to be in heat to scent mark!
Peeing Outside the Box
Like humans, no dog likes to be put in a box, therefore, there are always exceptions to every rule when it comes to a dog’s behavior, including elimination. Therefore, it isn’t uncommon to see a male dog squat or a female lift her leg.
According to Scott & Fuller in a 1965 study of dogs, male dogs that were set apart from each other showed a higher incidence of squatting. The strongest trigger for leg lifting in males appeared to be sensing the odor from a dog that belonged to a different social group.
Female dogs do sometimes lift their leg to urinate, but not as often as male dogs. One theory, as explained by Patricia McConnell, is a phenomenon called “androgenization” which explains that these female, masculine dogs are flushed with androgen in utero and are therefore more likely to display male behavior characteristics, including lifting a leg to pee.
As told by Peter Borchelt, Ph.D., certified applied animal behaviorist: "Pre-natal masculinization happens in mammals that give birth to multiple offspring where the males outnumber the females in the litter and a hormonal transfer occurs during prenatal development."
Health can also play a part in a dog’s urination habits. If any male dog that has lifted a leg his whole life suddenly starts squatting, he should be taken to a veterinarian for a checkup. Back pain, orthopedic problems, and even internal organs may be the culprit.
Dogs Doing Hand Stands When Peeing
And then you have dogs who take peeing at a higher level, engaging in some entertaining circus tricks: Introducing dogs who do hand stands while peeing! What's up with these dogs?
Interestingly, there is even a study on this to explain what may be going on. Turns out, on top of providing info about a dog's sex, age, and reproductive status, pee left on a vertical surface helps other dogs supposedly envision the dog's size.
In other words, the higher the urine mark, the larger the size of the dog. But things can get deceiving at times due to the fact that there may be some tricky dynamics going on in the pee department.
Introducing, the team of "dishonest markers" small, often pint-sized dogs known for carrying out deceptive practices when they hike their legs to urine mark.
According to the study, such small adult male dogs purposely exaggerate their leg lifts for the purpose of appearing larger than what they really are.
So what's the purpose for such deceitful strategies? Apparently it's a matter of self-preservation. According to McGuide & Bernis' study, such cheating occurs because direct social interactions with large dogs could turn out being costly for them considering their petite sizes. And who can blame them? With so many large to giant dogs around, any direct encounters may put them at risk for becoming lunch.
On top of this, there is the possibility that such peeing may be carried out with an intent to "over mark." Over marking, in simple words, is the practice of a dog peeing over another dog's pee. Small dogs may therefore aim high to pee so to cover the urine of larger dogs with their own scent.
Of course, until further studies come out, these are just assumptions. In the meanwhile, enjoy the acrobatic show below!
"Small dogs urinate more frequently and direct more urinations than large dogs, which may indicate a preference by small dogs for communicating through scent marking rather than direct interactions that could be risky."
— ~McGuide & Bernis, 2017
The Bottom Line
While urination may seem like a straight forward and basic bodily function we all need to perform, dogs can sometimes turn it into an art form. Whether for social, gender, or health reasons it can be as unique as the dog itself.
Whatever their reason, we should be thankful for the comic relief dogs bring into our lives. From the wet shoe they decide to chew, to the toilet bowl they can’t stop drinking out of, they are a delight to behold.
Maybe one day they will also teach us a few of those awesome tricks!
Dr. Bonnie V. Beaver,"Canine Behavior: Insights and Answers"
McGuire, B., Olsen, B., Bemis, K. E., & Orantes, D. (2018). Urine marking in male domestic dogs: honest or dishonest? Journal of Zoology, 25 July 2018
Sprague, R. H., & Anisko, J. J. (1973). Elimination patterns in the laboratory beagle. Behaviour, 47(3-4), 257–267
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2020 Adrienne Farricelli
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 27, 2020:
Peggy, I was thinking the same thing; how much pee does this dog doing the handstand have? Crazy.
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on May 27, 2020:
I noticed puppies eating their poo but never thought much of it though it was a weird sight. You inform me on dog's behaviors and types of dogs as pets, informative and interesting hub.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on May 27, 2020:
All of our dogs have been spayed or neutered. From my observation, I think that marking their territory is instinctual. That last video with the dog doing a handstand while urinating was amazing. First of all was the handstand, and secondly, the amount of urine he had in his bladder seemed endless!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 27, 2020:
The behavior of dogs eating their own poop is known as "coprophagia." Fortunately, as puppies mature, they tend to outgrow this habit, but in some dogs it persists past puppy hood.
James C Moore from Joliet, IL on May 25, 2020:
I can't say that I paid close attention to my prior dogs peeing prowess. But, I do remember one who as a puppy would eat his own droppings. Haven't seen that before or since. Do you know anything about that behavior?
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on May 25, 2020:
It's interesting you say that because my male Rottie used to pee right next to or even on top of my female's pee. And yes, both like yours were spayed and neutered. Perhaps those instincts prevail even with hormones out of the way.
My male was squatting for most of his first year, until he met my father in laws' intact male collie who taught him the art of leg raising. He never looked back after that.
A dog I have been boarding/training instead has this interesting habit of digging a hole and then peeing in it. Odd!
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on May 25, 2020:
Would you believe this is actually a topic of conversation at our house? When we take our pups on extended walks, they will exhibit multiple peeing positions.
But here's what we've noticed with almost every male-female pair of pups we've had. Where one goes, the other almost always pees in about the exact same place. We just say they're "tagging" their dog gang territory. :)
But we wonder whether it has to do with them protecting each other or signaling affiliation to other dogs in the neighborhood. Our dogs are spayed and neutered. So it might not be like they're posting on a doggie dating site. ;)
Dogs are endlessly fascinating, eh? Thanks for sharing all the fun and useful info, as always!