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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