Watching dogs do hand stands while peeing is something that is certainly going to intrigue the viewer. It's also likely to grant a chuckle or two, but what's up with these dogs engaging in such acrobatic acts? What's their purpose? And why do some dogs pee this way compared to others? These are questions many dog owners wonder about. Scientists have been wondering about this too and several studies reveal some interesting findings about the non-glamorous topic of dog urine and its interesting functions.
Leaving a "Mark"
Let's face it: we are all attracted to the idea of leaving information about us around the world. Poets and writers are excited when their work is published, musicians create tracks and songs for others to appreciate and folks who own businesses leave their business cards around. Now, with advent of social media, we like to share our photos, accomplishments and thoughts with others. It's as if we all want to contribute to the world around us leaving something memorable and impressive for others to recognize us.
Among animals this drive is strong, and often for the most part, it's a straightforward matter of spreading genes. Males of many species exhibit colorful plumage or coats, while females leave around enticing odors, especially when in estrus. Among dogs, odors play an important role so they spread their information and advertise themselves through urine marking.
If we think about it, urine marking in dogs is ultimately an astute method of communication. When dogs urine mark by leaving a little trickle of urine, they are not simply emptying their bladders; rather, they are strategically providing information about themselves to other dogs who act as "receivers."
What kind of information is being provided though? Turns out, just a little trickle of pee contain oodles of information pertaining the dog's age, sex, reproductive status, health, social status and even kinship (whether they are related or not).
The Art of Marking Vertically
For a very good reason many dogs show a preference for marking vertical surfaces. You see, when your dog pees on a car tire, tree trunk or the quintessential mail box, what he is doing is depositing his "pee-mail" so that it's readily available, right at another dog's nose reach.
If you watch the average dogs taken out on a walk, you'll indeed notice how attracted they are to sniffing out all these vertical surfaces. The urine astutely deposited is right at the average dogs' nose reach. On top of this, smells seem to linger for a longer period of time on vertical surfaces compared to horizontal ones.
Scents deposited on vertical surfaces therefore offer the advantage of being less likely to be contaminated from other scents that saturate the ground and they are also easily detected by other dogs who view them as visual landmarks.
You'll also likely notice that dogs who urine mark also deposit a little bit of urine here and there. They strategically distribute their urine so that they can spread their scent in various places rather than just one place.
A Matter of "Standing Out"
Among the variety of dog peeing positions, you may have noticed that male puppies tend to lean forward while females often squat. On the other hand, most adult male dogs raise their legs. Ever wondered why?
Well, a few exceptions aside, there's a good reason for hiking that leg up high: raising the leg to pee causes an elevated mark. Most likely, urine marking is therefore to a good extent a matter of advertising oneself, sort of like putting business cards on a big bulletin board. Those who are more competitive are more likely to put their business cards at eye level, right in the center of the board so that people can't ignore them.
This tendency has been witnessed in a variety of species and male and female pandas and dwarf mongooses were found to spend more time investigating the higher urine marks compared to the lower ones. Males would therefore avoid these large specimens, while female would keep tabs on them as potential mates.
Studies Reveal Small Dogs are Deceptive
On top of learning about a dog's sex, age and reproductive status, dogs who sniff a trickle of pee from a vertical surface may also supposedly envision the dog's size. The higher the urine mark, the larger the size of the dog depositing the urine. But things can get tricky at times because there are honest and dishonest urine markers out there!
Small dogs, in particular, appear to be guilty for carrying out deceptive practices when they lift their legs to urine mark. According to a study, small adult male dogs may exaggerate their leg lifting for the purpose of appearing larger than what they are.
At the extreme side are those small dogs known for even doing a hand stand for the purpose of elevating their urine marks, but why would they engage in such deceitful strategies? Apparently it's a matter of protecting themselves.
According to McGuide & Bernis' study, such cheating likely takes place because direct social interactions could be more costly for them considering their diminutive sizes. And who can blame them: with so many dogs around being larger than them, any direct encounters may predispone them to becoming lunch.
Another possible reason as to why small dogs do hand stands when peeing is that they are trying to "over mark." Over marking is the tendency of dogs to pee on top of another dog's pee. Pint-sized dogs may be therefore trying to pee as high as possible 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 watching the acrobatics!
"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
- 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
Flickr, Creative Commons, "I'm a big dog!" by wotthe7734, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)