By Jennifer Coates, DVM
Conventional wisdom says that when dogs pee, males raise a leg and females squat. In reality, however, dogs have many more options than that. Believe it or not, scientists have performed a number of studies into exactly what postures dogs take to pee. Let’s look at a variety of peeing positions in dogs, and whether they can tell us anything about a dog’s health, well-being, or what’s going on inside of their heads.
Dog Peeing Positions
An old study from the 1970s identified 12 positions that 60 intact male and 53 intact female adult beagles used to pee:
- Stand: Standing normally
- Lean: The body is leaning forward and the hind legs are extended to the back.
- Flex: The hind legs are partially flexed so the rear end is slightly lowered. The hind feet usually remain under the body (no straddle).
- Squat: The hind legs are straddled and sharply bent to bring the hind end close to the ground. The back is kept straight.
- Handstand: Both hind feet are lifted off the ground. They may be unsupported or placed against a vertical surface.
- Arch: The hind legs are usually spread and bent to bring the hind end close to the ground. The back is rounded, and the tail is lifted away from the ground.
- Raise: One hind leg is bent and raised off the ground but the leg is kept relatively low.
- Elevate: One hind leg is bent and raised off the ground. The foot and leg is held high.
- Lean-Raise: A combination of the Lean and Raise postures.
- Flex-Raise: A combination of the Flex and Raise postures.
- Squat-Raise: A combination of the Squat and Raise postures.
- Arch-Raise: A combination of the Arch and Raise postures.
The researchers found that females squatted most of the time but that the squat-raise was also quite popular. Females used most of the other positions too, albeit on a limited basis. Male dogs, on the other hand, had a more restricted repertoire. All of them demonstrated the elevate posture and some used the raised position, but the squat-raise and lean-raise only occurred rarely and the other positions weren’t noted at all. Keep in mind, however, that all the male dogs in this study were mature and intact.
What Does a Dog’s Peeing Position Mean?
Now that all the positions that a dog is likely to take to urinate have been identified, the question “Why?” has to be asked. What does it mean when a dog picks a particular posture at a particular time?
It’s important to remember that urination serves two purposes for dogs—elimination and marking. Both male and female dogs scent mark, but the behavior is more pervasive in males. Dogs who are marking preferentially urinate on vertical surfaces. If they urinate high up on that surface, the urine can flow downward covering a greater area, which leaves a stronger message to anyone who subsequently passes by. Peeing up high may even make a dog seem bigger than he actually is. This is probably why the elevate posture is so popular among males.
Interestingly, leg-raising is a behavior that only develops in male dogs as they mature. The authors of the study on beagles note that the lean posture, which deposits urine directly on the ground, “is typically used by male puppies and juveniles.”
But what about females? That’s where the handstand posture comes in. There’s no better way for a female dog to urinate at least as high as and maybe even higher than a similarly sized male can.
Research supports this hypothesis in female dogs. A paper published in 2004 looked at the urinary behaviors of six spayed and six intact female Jack Russell Terriers while they were being walked close to and further away from their “home area.” The scientists found that when away from their home area, these dogs were more likely to urinate frequently and aim their urine at objects in comparison to when they were walked close to home. The authors concluded “urination in female dogs does not function solely in elimination, but that it also has a significant role in scent marking…”
So, when dogs take a position that results in their urine hitting an object above the ground’s surface, chances are they are doing so to maximize the value of the scent they are leaving behind.
It’s important to note how many peeing positions are perfectly normal for both male and female dogs. Which ones they use depends on many factors including the dog’s location, age, sex, and possibly their reproductive status. The only time to be concerned is when a dog that usually pees in one position switches to another. This could be a sign of pain or another medical problem that needs to be addressed.