trekking with the dog on mountains

Living With Animals: Getting A Leg Up

Although I didn’t see it coming I suppose it was inevitable that last week’s rather dire column about the loss of trees would lead to questions about male dogs lifting their legs. Because, of course, they often lift their legs on trees. So while I find the segue more than a bit jarring, let’s talk about why dogs go all tripod when they pee.

When dogs (and, for that matter, other animals) urinate they are doing more than performing a necessary bodily function. They are also communicating. This behavior typically starts when the dog is between 6 months and a year old but it is not consistent: some male dogs squat to pee (more common in neutered than intact males), some females lift their legs, and some males and females sort of do both by squatting and slightly lifting a back leg in what looks like a most uncomfortable yoga position (let’s call it “confused dog”). My first dog Jasper went through a fortunately brief period of lifting a front leg while peeing, causing him to twist a bit to maintain balance which usually meant he wet the front leg still on the ground.

Pee might just smell like pee to us olfactory-challenged humans, but dogs have fifty times more scent receptors and so they learn a lot from that sniff of a well-used fire hydrant. Dogs use their urine to mark territory with the message “I was here” or, perhaps, “I was here and I plan on coming back, so watch out you puny pisser.”  Indeed, some authors describe this as canine social media with the messaging explaining things like gender, stress level, health and social status. While presidents and others may tweet, your dog lifts his leg to get his message across. The higher up the urine climbs the tree, the more likely it literally stands above messages from competitors. Leg lifting and careful aim gets that “post” up high. (P.S.: Back to last week’s column, urine can be either good or bad for a tree. However, in the worst case, blaming dog pee for the loss of trees is like worrying about the impact of bad breath on air pollution.)

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