Help, my dog pees like a female dog, what is wrong with him? This is often a question owners of male dogs squatting down to pee ask around. As seen in a past article, there are several dog peeing positions dogs assume and each dog may have his or her own personal preference. However, there are some distinct peeing positions that are distinctly seen in male and female dogs. We are therefore used to seeing female dogs squatting and male dogs lifting their legs, but the great thing about discovering dogs is that there are often no black and white rules to make things dull. You may therefore stumble on male dogs squatting to pee like female dogs do, and female dogs lifting their legs, just like males do.
A Sexually Dimorphic Behavior
Peeing in dogs is categorized as a sexually dimorphic behavior, meaning that male and female specimens of the same species may exhibit different behaviors.
For example, in singing birds of many species, male birds tend to produce complex songs, while females do not. These behaviors typical of males or females are often associated with the production of hormones and reproduction.
When it comes to peeing style in dogs, male dogs have been known for leg lifting, while female dogs have been known for squatting. If we think of it though, these differences are not really that surprising considering than even among humans there is a difference in peeing styles too, with men peeing while standing in front of a urinal and women sitting down on a toilet!
To better understand why some male dogs may be peeing like females, it helps to better understand the peeing styles of male dogs and its function.
Leg Lifting in Male Dogs
Why do male dogs lift their legs to pee? There are various theories and not many studies have been carried out to provide more factual information. Until dogs can talk and explain us more about their peeing habits, we are left with theories.
One theory is that leg lifting in male dogs is a learned behavior that has evolved once male dogs grew tired of being splashed with droplets of pee, but there is likely more going on than this oversimplification!
Perhaps a better theory is that leg lifting has proven helpful in allowing male dogs to urine mark with precision over certain surfaces. Emptying the bladder in dogs indeed entails more than just passively releasing fluid, it's means for communication.
Indeed, preferred areas dogs like to leave their pee-mail often include vertical surfaces such as lampposts, bushes and the quintessential fire hydrant. These vertical surfaces offer the advantage of being at nose-level for other dogs and animals to sniff and analyze.
Another theory is that male dogs start peeing this way because of the influence of the hormone testosterone. This theory makes sense considering that when intact male dogs are neutered, statistics show that their tendency to urine mark decreases; however, once neutered, male dogs do not seem interested in squatting! Instead, as loyal beings they stick to their old leg lifting habits. Apparently, once the behavior is learned, it's learned for good!
Finally, another theory is that male dogs lift their legs to pee from seeing other male dogs pee. It's true that dogs are often influenced from the behavior of other dogs, however, young puppies do not seem interested in leg lifting until they reach a certain age.
Age Puppies Start Urine Marking
The default method of peeing in both male and female puppies is by squatting. When puppies are young, indeed, both male and female dogs will pee in the the exact same position.
So when do male puppies start officially lifting their leg? If we are referring to the lifting leg action as seen when dogs urine mark, consider that this is a behavior that comes with age and is therefore something associated with growing up.
According to research conducted by Dr. Peter Borshelt, it was found that by the time puppies reached 5 months of age, a good 50 percent of them were already lifting their legs, and then, by the age of 8 months, 50 percent of them were urine marking. Then, by the age of24 months, the great majority of dogs (90-95 percent) were found to be respectively urine marking and leg lifting.
So don't fret if your puppy is not lifting his leg yet, consider that if he is under 5 months, this behavior is unlikely and many pups take longer than others in picking up this behavior. And if worse comes to worse, and your male pup turns out being a permanent squatter, there's really no need to worry, some males just never learn the behavior and there's nothing wrong with that! You may just have to learn to ignore people making funny remarks about your dog's urinary habits at the dog park, it sure makes a good conversation piece though!
Did you know? When puppies are born, they are unable to urinate or defecate on their own. At this stage, they require maternal stimulation (mother dog licks and ingests their waste) at least until they reach the age of three weeks (Ranson 1981).
A Matter of Social Maturity
Urine marking in male dogs is often thought to be a behavior triggered by hormones; however there is likely more than hormonal issues going on.
Yes, it is true that when male dogs are neutered, the tendency to urine mark may decrease; according to Nicholas Dodman it ends in about 60 percent of neutered dogs, however consider that dogs do not start urine marking right away as soon as they hit puberty.
This seems to suggest that more than a sexual behavior, urine marking is a matter of reaching social maturity, observes certified applied animal behaviorist John C. Wright in the book "Ain't Misbehavin': The Groundbreaking Program for Happy, Well-behaved Pets.
A Word of Caution
What if your dog has a history of lifting his leg and now suddenly he is more interested in squatting? This should raise your antennas and grab your attention as this abrupt change in behavior can be indicative of some medical problem going on. You may want to put your investigative hat on and check over your dog for signs of pain such as problems with his legs, back or urinary tract. Even better, have your vet evaluate him as some dogs are particularly stoic and problems may not be evident until it's late and that can often translate into deeper trouble. So play it safe and report with your vet any unusual findings.
- Ain't Misbehavin': The Groundbreaking Program for Happy, Well-Behaved Pets and Their PeoplePaperback– September 22, 2001 by John C. Wright (Author), Judy Wright Lashnits (Author): Rodale Books (September 22, 2001)
- Urinary behavior of female domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): influence of reproductive status, location, and age Sharon Cudd Wirant, Betty McGuire, Department of Biological Sciences, Clark Science Center, Smith College, Northampton, MA 01063, USA
- Animal Behavior: Effects of Sex, Social Status and Gonadectomy on Countermarking by Domestic Dogs, Canis familiaris; Anneke E. Lisberg, Charles T. Snowdon
- Elimination Patterns in the Laboratory Beagle, Randall H. Sprague1 and Joseph J. Anisko, Behaviour,Volume 47, Issue 3,pages257 – 267 Publication Year :1973
- Regulation of urine marking in male and female mice: effects of sex steroids. Kimura T, Hagiwara Y, Horm Behav. 1985 Mar;19(1):64-70.
- Hart, B. L., & Eckstein, R. A. (1997). The role of gonadal hormones in the occurrence of objectionable behaviours in dogs and cats. Applied Animal Behaviour Science, 52, 331-344.