Tag Archives: dog communication

Dog Communication With Us

How Dogs Communicate with Humans

“He wants to go out.”
“He wants you to play with him.”
“He wants you to pet him.”
“He doesn’t like you doing that.”

Dog owners spend a lot of time interpreting and acting on their dog’s vocal and body language signals. It is an ongoing and interactive non-verbal discourse between members of two completely different species. Let’s look into how this happens a little more closely.

Canine Vocal Communication

Dogs are not big on vocal communication, but they do produce various types and intensities of sounds, ranging from whimpering and muttering to growling and barking, and, through this means, achieve some crude communication with other dogs and humans. Dogs may be better at communicating with humans in this way than with other dogs.

For example:

  • Dog barks furiously (high energy bark – excitement over seeing a squirrel on TV)
  • We try opening the door (maybe he wants to go out?)
  • Dog thinks we’re strange – but registers what has transpired
  • Dog wants to go out – tries a few things that don’t work and then remembers the effect of barking. Tries it out and it works
  • Stimulus-response association is strengthened and high energy barking becomes the signal for going outThe corollary to this communication struggle is human/dog vocal communication. Dogs are by no means linguists: For them, English is a second language. But they do recognize a number of human sounds and are particularly attuned to hard consonants; sounds like “cuh” and “teh” (the word CAT is particularly easy for a dog to appreciate). The late, great Barbara Woodhouse knew this all too well and she favored (and popularized) one-word commands like siT, ouT, waiT, and stoppiT. Dogs can learn literally hundreds of human sounds, but they are no good at stringing them together. You can teach a dog to sit when you say SIT and you can teach him the word DINNER, but when you tell him “SIT IN YOUR DINNER” he will be at a loss as to what to do. That’s where body language comes in to fill the communication gap.

Dog Body Language Communication

Here the talents are reversed. Dogs are experts at sending and receiving body language signals and, in contrast, we are dumb clucks. The signs dogs use to communicate with each other are fairly well known and include certain facial expressions, body postures and movements (see Dog to Dog Communication.)

Of course, dogs try using these expressions to communicate with humans, assuming that we speak the same language. Some people understand what they see – and some don’t. Although most humans understand extremes, such as the threatening expressions and postures of attack, the subtleties of canine “signing” are often overlooked or misconstrued.

Some people, rightly or wrongly, apply their own interpretation of dogs’ body language. For example, the submissive grin of a self-effacing terrier may be interpreted by owners as a smile. The owners laugh and reward the behavior, which is thus conditioned and will later occur on cue; “Have you seen Bonzo smile?” an owner might ask her friend. On hearing the word SMILE, Bonzo then approaches, head and neck bowed and body wiggling, as he displays a super-reinforced submissive grin that looks for all the world like a human smile. Because everyone is happy about this novel event, the smile even appears to occur in context.

We humans aren’t well versed in body language but we do have a little of our own. We stare in indignation and defiance. We crane our necks forward and jut out our chins by way of threat and lower our heads in submission and shame. We don’t do much wiggling of our ears, and we don’t have a tail to wag, but we do have hands that point or threaten. Even though dogs may not initially cotton on to the full significance of human hand jive, they do eventually get the message. Skillful trainers learn the importance of conveying a mix of signs, ranging from direct eye contact and forward body movement to hand signals, when giving a command. One deaf Dalmation, Hogan, knows 45 words of American Sign Language so the potential for learning in the signing department is large. Also, it has been recently shown that dogs can follow our gestures to find hidden objects. The fact that dogs display this talent means that dogs have evolved to understand us, their human caregivers, more than was previously believed possible.

The Mechanics of Dog Communication

Dog Sounds

  • The whimper – anxiety (I’m miserable)
  • The whine – frustration (can be inadvertently reinforced as an attention-getting behavior)
  • The growl – back off
  • The howl – I can’t find you (long distance communication, loneliness, misery)
  • The bark – different types of bark mean different things. There are greeting barks (excitement/happiness), alarm barks, barking for attention and as a threat (frequently reinforced by the person’s response)

    The Dog Look

  • Direct eye contact – looking for attention or serving as a threat (depending on the context)
  • Averted eyes – submission/deference
  • Looking at an object – to direct the owner to the object in question, whether a ball that has rolled under a couch or a door that is creating an impasse

    Dog Head/Neck Posture

  • Up – attention or challenge
  • To the side/turning away – deference/attempts at avoidance
  • Head held low – submission

    Dog Body/Torso

  • Tense muscles – subconscious sign of impending fight or flight
  • Relaxed body, relaxed musculature – easy going attitude
  • Head held low but rear end elevated, tail wagging – I want to play

    Dog Tail

    We can read the dog’s mood from the tail position/movement, but the tail is not really intended to communicate anything to humans. However, when the tail is up it means the dog is actively interested (a confident, attentive gesture). Tail tucked is submission; tail horizontal is neutral mood or indifference; tail movement (wagging) reflects the dog’s energy level/excitement level.

    Dog Movement

  • Movement toward a person is designed to get their attention.
  • Movement away from a person transmits the dog’s uncertainty about that person. The dog’s movement away from the person is a defensive move.

Conclusion on How Dogs Communicate with Humans

However they manage it, and however we manage to interpret it, there can be no doubt that dogs can get their message across to receptive owners and can often direct a person’s behavior to suit their needs. Though deep philosophical discussions are not possible, basic wants and needs can be transmitted, sometimes with remarkable clarity and fluency.

The reverse also appears to be true. If we are sad, our dogs seem to pick up on this, perhaps spending increased time in close proximity to us and changing their demeanor toward us. Sense of smell comes into a dog’s reading of a person, too. Some dogs can tell if a person with diabetes is becoming hypoglycemic (low blood sugar), presumably because they detect the sweet smell of “ketosis” (caused by altered fat metabolism). Other dogs pay inordinate interest to malignant tumors and, because of their interest, direct the owner’s attention toward them. Yet others anticipate seizures in a seizure-prone person before the individual is aware that there is something wrong.

As owners learn more about their dog’s abilities to communicate with them, they build a more harmonious and more fulfilling relationship. The more we can understand about what our dogs are trying to tell us the better dog owners we will become. Some people have lengthy conversations with their dogs. The dog clearly cannot understand much of what is being said, but he may realize that he is getting attention, may recognize occasional sounds, and will probably pick up on the mood of the person talking to him.

Recently, it was reported that reading a telephone directory to a dog using different intonations for otherwise gibberish communication produces responses from the dog that match the tone of the reader’s voice. For example, reading people’s names, addresses, and telephone numbers in a happy tone caused the dog to act happily, head up, standing tall and tail wagging, with the dog seeming to appreciate what was being said. Conversely, if a similar list was read in a morose voice, the dog would act sheepish or depressed, mirroring what he thought to be his owner’s mood. For dogs, voice intonation and actions often speak louder than words.

 Dr. Nicholas Dodman

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

Diana@WestsideDogNanny.com
310 919 9372

Dog to Dog Communication

 Dog to Dog Communication

Dog to Dog Communication

Without a sound, two properly socialized dogs meeting for the first time can size each other up in just a few moments. An exchange of glances can tell each canine if they’re going to be friends or enemies.
How can dogs do this without a sophisticated verbal language? The answer: facial expressions, body language and posturing. Although dogs signal intent by barks and growls, the message is not complete without the telegraphy of body and facial language.

Dog Body Language

Various parts of the dog’s body are involved in this form of communication.

Here is a quick primer in canine body language. Here are what canine facial expressions, head and neck positions, gestures, tail position and torso position means as to how dogs communicate.

Dog Facial Expressions

A combination of facial expressions communicate a dog’s mood and intentions that can be understood by other species, including humans. Here are a few examples of facial communication:

  • Relaxed mood: Soft eyes, lit up, looking – but not staring. Ears forward or flopped, with tips bent over (if anatomically possible). Mouth open, lips slightly back, giving the impression of smiling. Tongue hanging limply from the side of the mouth
  • Anxiety: Eyes glancing sideways or away. Ears to the side of the head or flopped. Teeth clenched, lips firmly retracted. Tongue either not evident or lip licking
  • Intimidating: Eyes staring like searchlights. Ears forward. Teeth bared
  • Fearfulness: Eyes looking forward or away, pupils dilated. Ears pressed back close to the head. Panting/breathing hard through clenched or slightly open mouth. Jaw tense so that sinews show in the cheeks
  • Stress: Yawning plus other signs of anxiety or fearfulness (as above)

    Dog Head-Neck Position

  • Head down (“hang dog”): Submission or depression
  • Head in normal mid-way position: Everything is all right
  • Head/neck turned to side: Deference
  • Head held high/neck craning forward: Interest or, depending on other signs, a challenge
  • Head resting on other dog’s back: Demonstrating dominance

    Dog Torso/Trunk/Upper Limb

  • Tensing of muscles and the raising of hackles: Threat/imminent fight

    Dog Gestures

  • Play bow – head low, rump elevated: The universal sign of canine happiness and an invitation to play
  • Paws on top of another dog’s back: Dominance
  • Looming over: Dominance
  • Rolling over: Submission/deference
  • Urinating by squatting: Deference
  • Urinating by leg lifting: Dominance/defiance
  • Humping: Dominance
  • Backing: Unsure/fearful

    Dog Tail Position

  • Tail up: Alert, confident, dominant
  • Tail wagging: Dog’s energy level is elevated (excited or agitated)
  • Tail held low or tucked: Fearful, submissive
  • Tail held horizontal and wagging slowly: Caution
  • Tail held relaxed and stationary: Contented dog

The Conclusion on How Dogs Communicate with Other Dogs

There is no one sign that gives away a dog’s feelings but if you consider all the body language signs, you can get a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the dog’s head. A dog that is staring at another dog, his ears pricked and his tail stiff, is probably conveying dominance, or at least a wish for it.

A dog that averts his gaze from another dog and hunkers down nervously as if waiting for an explosion is likely fearful and is trying to defuse the situation by acting submissive.

Sometimes body language signs can be ambivalent, however. For example, it is not uncommon to observe a dog growling at another dog while occasionally glancing to the side, backing up, and with his tail wagging. Such a dog is invariably fearful. Whenever fear signs are present, fear is in the equation. These dogs are unpredictable with other dogs and will alter their body language and behavior according to circumstances. If the opposing dog retires, they may jump around and “look happy.” If the opposing dog approaches too close the fearful one may snap or bite. Owners, if present, can help defuse their dog’s ambivalence and uncertainty by taking a strong leadership role. It’s amazing how rapidly a fearful dog’s disposition will change when an authoritative owner steps in and controls the moment. Dogs need strong leaders.

Another aspect of communication is odor. Because dogs have such an amazing sense of smell, it is likely that they learn a lot about other dogs from their smell. That’s what all the sniffing is about. It is difficult to imagine what sort of information passes between dogs via this medium. We do know that intact male dogs “smell male” (because of male sex pheromones) and that neutered males do not have this characteristic musk. By neutering males, we alter the olfactory signals they emit and thus other dog’s perception of them. It may even be that the “non-male smell” equates with a diestrus (in-between heat periods) or a neutered bitch smell.

When an intact male dog meets a neutered one, the response may not be confrontational because the other dog doesn’t perceive a rival. He may believe the neutered dog is female.

Non-verbal communications signaling “let’s play,” “leave me alone,” “who do you think you’re talking to,” “I’m not going to cause you a problem, I promise,” are going on all the time between dogs but many dog owners don’t realize it. It’s amazing what can be conveyed with the odd glance or posture. Some dogs are masters at such subtle language.

The worst canine communicators are those dogs that have been raised without the company of other dogs during a critical inter-dog socialization phase of their lives (3 to 6 weeks). Hand raised orphans provide an extreme example of what may be lacking. Many of these dogs are socially inappropriate having not learned canine communication and social etiquette. They may attack and continue to attack another dog when the psychological war is already won. They may not know how to signal defeat when they are being attacked themselves. And that’s just the (extreme) tip of their communication failures.

Most dogs are not this “dyslexic” and can communicate what they need – as with humans – but the good communicators usually have the edge. Fully functional body language is a beautiful thing that can help resolve uncertainties at a glance. Humans communicate in body language too. We’re just not so good at it and some of us are positively stiff. If dogs could talk they’d probably categorize us as “dumb animals.”

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

Diana@WestsideDogNanny.com
310 919 9372

Dog Communication With Humans

How Dogs Communicate with Humans

“He wants to go out.”
“He wants you to play with him.”
“He wants you to pet him.”
“He doesn’t like you doing that.”

Dog owners spend a lot of time interpreting and acting on their dog’s vocal and body language signals. It is an ongoing and interactive non-verbal discourse between members of two completely different species. Let’s look into how this happens a little more closely.

Canine Vocal Communication

Dogs are not big on vocal communication, but they do produce various types and intensities of sounds, ranging from whimpering and muttering to growling and barking, and, through this means, achieve some crude communication with other dogs and humans. Dogs may be better at communicating with humans in this way than with other dogs.

For example:

  • Dog barks furiously (high energy bark – excitement over seeing a squirrel on TV)
  • We try opening the door (maybe he wants to go out?)
  • Dog thinks we’re strange – but registers what has transpired
  • Dog wants to go out – tries a few things that don’t work and then remembers the effect of barking. Tries it out and it works
  • Stimulus-response association is strengthened and high energy barking becomes the signal for going outThe corollary to this communication struggle is human/dog vocal communication. Dogs are by no means linguists: For them, English is a second language. But they do recognize a number of human sounds and are particularly attuned to hard consonants; sounds like “cuh” and “teh” (the word CAT is particularly easy for a dog to appreciate). The late, great Barbara Woodhouse knew this all too well and she favored (and popularized) one-word commands like siT, ouT, waiT, and stoppiT. Dogs can learn literally hundreds of human sounds, but they are no good at stringing them together. You can teach a dog to sit when you say SIT and you can teach him the word DINNER, but when you tell him “SIT IN YOUR DINNER” he will be at a loss as to what to do. That’s where body language comes in to fill the communication gap.

Dog Body Language Communication

Here the talents are reversed. Dogs are experts at sending and receiving body language signals and, in contrast, we are dumb clucks. The signs dogs use to communicate with each other are fairly well known and include certain facial expressions, body postures and movements (see Dog to Dog Communication.)

Of course, dogs try using these expressions to communicate with humans, assuming that we speak the same language. Some people understand what they see – and some don’t. Although most humans understand extremes, such as the threatening expressions and postures of attack, the subtleties of canine “signing” are often overlooked or misconstrued.

Some people, rightly or wrongly, apply their own interpretation of dogs’ body language. For example, the submissive grin of a self-effacing terrier may be interpreted by owners as a smile. The owners laugh and reward the behavior, which is thus conditioned and will later occur on cue; “Have you seen Bonzo smile?” an owner might ask her friend. On hearing the word SMILE, Bonzo then approaches, head and neck bowed and body wiggling, as he displays a super-reinforced submissive grin that looks for all the world like a human smile. Because everyone is happy about this novel event, the smile even appears to occur in context.

We humans aren’t well versed in body language but we do have a little of our own. We stare in indignation and defiance. We crane our necks forward and jut out our chins by way of threat and lower our heads in submission and shame. We don’t do much wiggling of our ears, and we don’t have a tail to wag, but we do have hands that point or threaten. Even though dogs may not initially cotton on to the full significance of human hand jive, they do eventually get the message. Skillful trainers learn the importance of conveying a mix of signs, ranging from direct eye contact and forward body movement to hand signals, when giving a command. One deaf Dalmation, Hogan, knows 45 words of American Sign Language so the potential for learning in the signing department is large. Also, it has been recently shown that dogs can follow our gestures to find hidden objects. The fact that dogs display this talent means that dogs have evolved to understand us, their human caregivers, more than was previously believed possible.

The Mechanics of Dog Communication

Dog Sounds

  • The whimper – anxiety (I’m miserable)
  • The whine – frustration (can be inadvertently reinforced as an attention-getting behavior)
  • The growl – back off
  • The howl – I can’t find you (long distance communication, loneliness, misery)
  • The bark – different types of bark mean different things. There are greeting barks (excitement/happiness), alarm barks, barking for attention and as a threat (frequently reinforced by the person’s response)

    The Dog Look

  • Direct eye contact – looking for attention or serving as a threat (depending on the context)
  • Averted eyes – submission/deference
  • Looking at an object – to direct the owner to the object in question, whether a ball that has rolled under a couch or a door that is creating an impasse

    Dog Head/Neck Posture

  • Up – attention or challenge
  • To the side/turning away – deference/attempts at avoidance
  • Head held low – submission

    Dog Body/Torso

  • Tense muscles – subconscious sign of impending fight or flight
  • Relaxed body, relaxed musculature – easy going attitude
  • Head held low but rear end elevated, tail wagging – I want to play

    Dog Tail

    We can read the dog’s mood from the tail position/movement, but the tail is not really intended to communicate anything to humans. However, when the tail is up it means the dog is actively interested (a confident, attentive gesture). Tail tucked is submission; tail horizontal is neutral mood or indifference; tail movement (wagging) reflects the dog’s energy level/excitement level.

    Dog Movement

  • Movement toward a person is designed to get their attention.
  • Movement away from a person transmits the dog’s uncertainty about that person. The dog’s movement away from the person is a defensive move.

Conclusion on How Dogs Communicate with Humans

However they manage it, and however we manage to interpret it, there can be no doubt that dogs can get their message across to receptive owners and can often direct a person’s behavior to suit their needs. Though deep philosophical discussions are not possible, basic wants and needs can be transmitted, sometimes with remarkable clarity and fluency.

The reverse also appears to be true. If we are sad, our dogs seem to pick up on this, perhaps spending increased time in close proximity to us and changing their demeanor toward us. Sense of smell comes into a dog’s reading of a person, too. Some dogs can tell if a person with diabetes is becoming hypoglycemic (low blood sugar), presumably because they detect the sweet smell of “ketosis” (caused by altered fat metabolism). Other dogs pay inordinate interest to malignant tumors and, because of their interest, direct the owner’s attention toward them. Yet others anticipate seizures in a seizure-prone person before the individual is aware that there is something wrong.

As owners learn more about their dog’s abilities to communicate with them, they build a more harmonious and more fulfilling relationship. The more we can understand about what our dogs are trying to tell us the better dog owners we will become. Some people have lengthy conversations with their dogs. The dog clearly cannot understand much of what is being said, but he may realize that he is getting attention, may recognize occasional sounds, and will probably pick up on the mood of the person talking to him.

Recently, it was reported that reading a telephone directory to a dog using different intonations for otherwise gibberish communication produces responses from the dog that match the tone of the reader’s voice. For example, reading people’s names, addresses, and telephone numbers in a happy tone caused the dog to act happily, head up, standing tall and tail wagging, with the dog seeming to appreciate what was being said. Conversely, if a similar list was read in a morose voice, the dog would act sheepish or depressed, mirroring what he thought to be his owner’s mood. For dogs, voice intonation and actions often speak louder than words.

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

Diana@WestsideDogNanny.com
310 919 9372

Dog to Dog Communication

 Dog to Dog Communication

 

Dog to Dog Communication

Without a sound, two properly socialized dogs meeting for the first time can size each other up in just a few moments. An exchange of glances can tell each canine if they’re going to be friends or enemies.
How can dogs do this without a sophisticated verbal language? The answer: facial expressions, body language and posturing. Although dogs signal intent by barks and growls, the message is not complete without the telegraphy of body and facial language.

Dog Body Language

Various parts of the dog’s body are involved in this form of communication.

Here is a quick primer in canine body language. Here are what canine facial expressions, head and neck positions, gestures, tail position and torso position means as to how dogs communicate.

Dog Facial Expressions

A combination of facial expressions communicate a dog’s mood and intentions that can be understood by other species, including humans. Here are a few examples of facial communication:

  • Relaxed mood: Soft eyes, lit up, looking – but not staring. Ears forward or flopped, with tips bent over (if anatomically possible). Mouth open, lips slightly back, giving the impression of smiling. Tongue hanging limply from the side of the mouth
  • Anxiety: Eyes glancing sideways or away. Ears to the side of the head or flopped. Teeth clenched, lips firmly retracted. Tongue either not evident or lip licking
  • Intimidating: Eyes staring like searchlights. Ears forward. Teeth bared
  • Fearfulness: Eyes looking forward or away, pupils dilated. Ears pressed backclose to the head. Panting/breathing hard through clenched or slightly open mouth. Jaw tense so that sinews show in the cheeks
  • Stress: Yawning plus other signs of anxiety or fearfulness (as above)

    Dog Head-Neck Position

  • Head down (“hang dog”): Submission or depression
  • Head in normal mid-way position: Everything is all right
  • Head/neck turned to side: Deference
  • Head held high/neck craning forward: Interest or, depending on other signs, a challenge
  • Head resting on other dog’s back: Demonstrating dominance

    Dog Torso/Trunk/Upper Limb

  • Tensing of muscles and the raising of hackles: Threat/imminent fight

    Dog Gestures

  • Play bow – head low, rump elevated: The universal sign of canine happiness and an invitation to play
  • Paws on top of another dog’s back: Dominance
  • Looming over: Dominance
  • Rolling over: Submission/deference
  • Urinating by squatting: Deference
  • Urinating by leg lifting: Dominance/defiance
  • Humping: Dominance
  • Backing: Unsure/fearful

    Dog Tail Position

  • Tail up: Alert, confident, dominant
  • Tail wagging: Dog’s energy level is elevated (excited or agitated)
  • Tail held low or tucked: Fearful, submissive
  • Tail held horizontal and wagging slowly: Caution
  • Tail held relaxed and stationary: Contented dog

The Conclusion on How Dogs Communicate with Other Dogs

There is no one sign that gives away a dog’s feelings but if you consider all the body language signs, you can get a pretty good idea of what’s going on in the dog’s head. A dog that is staring at another dog, his ears pricked and his tail stiff, is probably conveying dominance, or at least a wish for it.

A dog that averts his gaze from another dog and hunkers down nervously as if waiting for an explosion is likely fearful and is trying to defuse the situation by acting submissive.

Sometimes body language signs can be ambivalent, however. For example, it is not uncommon to observe a dog growling at another dog while occasionally glancing to the side, backing up, and with his tail wagging. Such a dog is invariably fearful. Whenever fear signs are present, fear is in the equation. These dogs are unpredictable with other dogs and will alter their body language and behavior according to circumstances. If the opposing dog retires, they may jump around and “look happy.” If the opposing dog approaches too close the fearful one may snap or bite. Owners, if present, can help defuse their dog’s ambivalence and uncertainty by taking a strong leadership role. It’s amazing how rapidly a fearful dog’s disposition will change when an authoritative owner steps in and controls the moment. Dogs need strong leaders.

Another aspect of communication is odor. Because dogs have such an amazing sense of smell, it is likely that they learn a lot about other dogs from their smell. That’s what all the sniffing is about. It is difficult to imagine what sort of information passes between dogs via this medium. We do know that intact male dogs “smell male” (because of male sex pheromones) and that neutered males do not have this characteristic musk. By neutering males, we alter the olfactory signals they emit and thus other dog’s perception of them. It may even be that the “non-male smell” equates with a diestrus (in-between heat periods) or a neutered bitch smell.

When an intact male dog meets a neutered one, the response may not be confrontational because the other dog doesn’t perceive a rival. He may believe the neutered dog is female.

Non-verbal communications signaling “let’s play,” “leave me alone,” “who do you think you’re talking to,” “I’m not going to cause you a problem, I promise,” are going on all the time between dogs but many dog owners don’t realize it. It’s amazing what can be conveyed with the odd glance or posture. Some dogs are masters at such subtle language.

The worst canine communicators are those dogs that have been raised without the company of other dogs during a critical inter-dog socialization phase of their lives (3 to 6 weeks). Hand raised orphans provide an extreme example of what may be lacking. Many of these dogs are socially inappropriate having not learned canine communication and social etiquette. They may attack andcontinue to attack another dog when the psychological war is already won. They may not know how to signal defeat when they are being attacked themselves. And that’s just the (extreme) tip of their communication failures.

Most dogs are not this “dyslexic” and can communicate what they need – as with humans – but the good communicators usually have the edge. Fully functional body language is a beautiful thing that can help resolve uncertainties at a glance. Humans communicate in body language too. We’re just not so good at it and some of us are positively stiff. If dogs could talk they’d probably categorize us as “dumb animals.”                   Dr. Nicholas Dodman

Diana Ruth Davidson, Chief Pet Officer and Managing Nanny, Westside Dog Nanny

We offer pet services such as:  Pet Sitting,  In-Home Dog Boarding, Dog Walking, Overnights in your home, Doggie Day Care.

Diana@WestsideDogNanny.com
310 919 9372

Male Dogs Marking Territory by Lifting Leg to Urinate

Male dogs marking territory by lifting their leg to urinate.

Why do male dogs lift their leg when they urinate? It’s a funny behavior if you think about it; most female dogs don’t do it, and not all male dogs do it either. After all, leg lifting isn’t necessary to perform the action of urination.
The answer has nothing to do with the act of urination or the elimination of waste. Lifting the leg while urinating actually has everything to do with the way that dogs communicate. It is a method by which dogs mark their territory and a way for them to mark areas with their scent. Not only is it totally normal behavior, it’s also an important part of how dogs “talk” to each other.
Dogs are pack animals, and their heritage as such suggests that they need to live within their territory. Doing so allows them access to necessary resources and makes it clear to other dogs that this area is taken, thereby avoiding unnecessary confrontations.
Another aspect of dog communication is their amazing sense of smell; they rely on this sensory information to understand their world. Dogs are reported to have anywhere from 40 to 100,000 times more sensing ability than humans. Some experts suggest that the sense of smell is so strong it consumes 30% of the canine brain function (as opposed to the estimated 5% devoted in the human brain).
Now, back to the issue of urine. Dog urine contains pheromones, microscopic odor molecules that communicate to other animals that a dog was there. The lifting of the leg allows the dog to “place their mark” closer to nose level, where it can be more prominent to other dogs. Many dogs urinate over another dog’s mark to communicate their presence, sort of like painting over graffiti.
Somewhere between 6 months and 1 year of age, most dogs will begin learning to “lift.” It is estimated that 60% of neutered dogs will stop leg lifting after the procedure. Occasionally, you may find an intact female dog who will also mark for the same reasons as male dogs, but this behavior can be most frequent during heat cycles because it helps signal their mating potential to receptive males. Females can also mark to send their own territorial signals. Nearly all intact female dogs that leg lift will stop after spaying, but some continue years after surgery.
 by: Dr. Debra Primovic – DVM