We’ve all seen it before. A dog walks up, gives something like a tree, or your favorite chair a good sniff. Then they line up, lift a leg and let fly with a quick stream of urine. It stinks, especially when your dog does it to the furniture. Luckily, you can train your indoor dog not to pee on things in the house. However, that doesn’t solve the mystery of why they feel the need to do this odd bit of doggy behavior. I researched the subject extensively, and the answer was pretty much what I thought it would be, yet I still learned a few new things about why our canine companions lift a leg.
Why do dogs lift their leg to pee? Typically it’s male dogs who lift a leg to pee. They do this to accurately deposit their scent and mark their territory. It’s a warning to other dogs and predators that this area is taken.
Why Dogs Lift Their Leg to Pee:
The leg lift may look a little funny to humans who pee standing up or sitting down, but we only have two legs. Your dog is doing what comes naturally. Here are the main reasons why dogs lift their legs.
- Territorial Marking- Dogs, like many animals, leave markers at the edge of ‘their property.’ Humans use fences. Dogs mark with pee.
- Hello Ladies- When a male dog marks his territory, he’s letting any female dogs in the area know that there’s stud service available when they’re feeling in the mood.
- Accurate Aim- Lifting a leg allows the dog to line up their shot. Putting the scent higher up means other dogs won’t miss it in passing, not that they would anyhow.
- Vertical Surfaces- Human males have their equipment out front, so peeing on a vertical surface is easy for them. Dogs, on the other hand, have to work from beneath. Lifting a leg helps your pet hit a vertical surface instead of putting a puddle on the ground.
- Keeping Pee Off Their Legs- Though it’s not the primary motivation, all dog pee postures help direct the stream away from the dogs’ legs. No one likes standing in their own waste.
Why Mark Territory With Pee
Dogs who lift their legs to mark territory are putting up a sign that says Fido is Here. What is it about urine that makes for such a useful marker?
Well, for one thing, it’s a liquid that dogs can spray out at reasonably high velocity. That makes putting the pee where they want it a lot easier. The other reason is hormones. A dog’s sensitive nose can glean as much information from a scent mark as we do from a business card or pamphlet.
Lifting the leg to spread urine marks out a claimed territory. The instinct to claim and defend a specific area is a survival strategy. Some creatures are nomadic and travel from place to place similar to the way buffalo herds wander the plains eating the grasses they need and moving on when they’ve used up the resource. This gives the grass time to grow back, and the animals plenty of food.
For omnivores and carnivores, things are a little easier. Their food isn’t seasonal and can be found within a smaller area. Because dogs eat meat, they can hunt whatever wanders through their territory. Hence, in nature, a pack of dogs would patrol one area. They are fighting off intruders who might poach their meals and working together to bring down enough to feed the whole group.
Marking the area tells other predators, especially dogs, that someone already lives here. When a young male who has left his pack, or lost them, is looking for a new home, he’ll smell the sign and move on. Taking on an established pack would be too dangerous, and the world is a large enough place for a hungry dog to find a different home.
When male dogs lift a leg to mark, they aren’t just claiming their area. It’s not even about whether they need to pee. Instead, they are letting females in the area know they are around. It’s the doggy version of a pick-up line. Males communicate their virility to females with scent.
Similarly, a female dog engaging in this behavior may be less common, but the idea is the same. She could be super territorial. However, it’s likely she’s telling the fellas that she needs a date or in this case, a mate. Dogs don’t mate for life, so it’s just fine if their casual invites wash away in the next storm.
Not All Dogs Lift Their Leg to Pee
Some dogs lift a leg to pee while others don’t. Those who don’t practice the behavior tend to squat, which also helps direct urine. Some canines do a combination small squat and leg-lift, and some who go for a higher position. Moreover, individuals may choose to use two or more postures, depending on the situation.
While male dogs are the most likely to mark while they urinate, females can also do this doggy trick. Some have a strong preference as to which side they lift their leg on, but not all canines care which side they mark from. Beyond that, it’s also common for smaller dogs to prefer marking as a means of communication.
It’s probably a smart defensive move. Smaller animals can let other dogs know someone is around without having to confront them directly. A little dog would be less likely to win a fight, so it helps keep them safe by limiting the face-to-face interaction with members of their species who could take them down in battle.
In addition to lifting a leg and marking, some dogs will scratch at the ground near where they just marked. Unlike cats, who are burying their waste, dogs aren’t trying to hide what they just did. In fact, it’s the opposite. Marking the ground near where their scent is deposited is like underlining their sentence or putting an exclamation mark on it. Your pet is making sure that other dogs see what they did.
The same goes for poop. Some dogs use their feces as part of their territory marking. Not all dogs do this, but it may be a throwback behavior. Humans have been breeding dogs for centuries. We don’t want them pooping around the house, so we train them not to do it. Naturally, we don’t like having urine there either, but it takes a long time to convince a species to change a natural behavior, and the urine probably communicates more information.
Leg Lifting Indoors
Dogs start lifting their legs to pee between about six months and a year old. It’s a sign that they’re getting ready to reach sexual maturity. While every dog matures at their own pace, most will begin marking around this time.
Regardless of whether they’re fixed or not, most dogs will still begin this behavior pattern. You’re likely to notice it in or around the house. Partially, this is because they spend more time at home with you anyhow. The other piece of that equation is that home is safe. It’s where they live and the first place they’ll see as theirs.
Puddle Vs. Spray
When your dog pees on the floor, as opposed to lifting a leg and marking, they’re probably just going because they needed to pee. Spraying walls, furniture, and other things around the house is staking their claim.
Even if you have no other animals around, and none are living nearby, it’s part of their doggy DNA to begin attempting to do this as they grow. As soon as you notice marking the behavior, it’s time to redirect. Take them outside and praise them for marking there, while erasing their indoor marks and discouraging the practice in the house.
Cleaning Up Dog Pee
The trouble with urine is twofold. Whether your dog lifts and marks or just piddles on the floor, you have an odor issue and a moisture issue. Urine left on the floor will soak into the subflooring, making it hard or even impossible to remove. Always clean up with an excellent enzyme cleaner if your dog pees or marks inside.
Carpets and upholstery are the hardest surfaces to remove dog urine from, so I suggest getting a professional strength cleaner like Genesis 950 from Amazon. You can check prices and availability when you click here.
It takes diligence and constant reinforcement to prevent your pup from lifting a leg and marking around the house. Be patient with them and don’t yell or shame your dog for doing what comes naturally. You can train them only to mark outdoors the same as you teach them to pee and poop. It can be frustrating, but it’s worth the time.
One way to help prevent a dog from marking new items in your house is to introduce them slowly instead of just putting them out, especially if the latest addition is tall. A taller thing is a prime marking candidate. Show them the new addition. Put it out only when you’re around to pay attention, and slowly leave it in the environment for more extended periods.
Sometimes a spray just won’t cut it. If you’re worried about what might happen to the house while you’re training your dog not to lift his leg indoors, there’s a simple solution. Sometimes called belly bands or dog diapers, whatever you call them, they work. I suggest Four Paws Wee-Wee Disposable Male Dog Wraps for training. You can keep them from marking things while they learn. Check out the details by clicking here.
When your adult dog suddenly changes the posture they use to pee or mark or stops lifting a leg, you should pay attention. Canines who are in pain will change their movements. They try to hide it because weakness is a loss of status in pack animals. Take your pup to the vet if they change the way they pee. They may have a UTI, torn muscle, or other damage.
It’s normal and natural for dogs to lift a leg and mark. Instead of shaming their natural behavior, redirect it outside. Give praise when they do it in the right area. You can even give a small treat when your dog does well.
Leg lifting helps your dog communicate. Don’t silence them. Help your pup find their ‘voice’ in more appropriate ways.