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Canine Urination 101: Handstands and Leg Lifts Are Just the Basics

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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As my Twitter bio says, I’m interested in your dog’s urine. I’m not kidding around here. For a recent Animal Behavior class, I buddied up with a doggie daycare and followed dogs on their afternoon walks. Yes. I was that person walking around NYC with a hand held camera, trailing dogs and video taping them as they peed.

This wasn’t a hypothesis testing experiment, I was simply trying to gauge what parts of urination were easily measured in a naturalistic context. I checked out things like urination duration, urine placement, leg position, leg height, tail position and post-pee scratching. If another dog was present, I got to see whether there was any over-marking (peeing on another dog’s pee) or adjacent marking (peeing nearby). I was just measuring stuff as you often do when starting to investigate why animals do what they do.

I’m not the only researcher interested in your dog’s urine. Patricia Yang and colleagues at The Georgia Institute of Technology have a similar interest in measuring things that might seem odd to measure. They’ve submitted the abstract The Hydrodynamics of Urination: to drip or jet to the Annual Fluid Dynamics Conference held by the American Physical Society in late November.

Using “high-speed videography” and “flow-rate measurement” they investigated independent urination styles, such as the dripping of small mammals and the “jetting” of large mammals. New Scientist interviewed Yang (and Discover has a piece out as well), and the coverage touches on urethra length, gravitational pull and the number of seconds it takes to empty bladders. I eagerly await how the published study links Newtonian physics to urine!

Truth be told, maybe I wanted to write this post so I could write “jetting” of large mammals, and show this video. Also, I want to go on vacation with these people*:

But as you’ve seen, urine does not begin and end with the jetting of large mammals. Dog urination is pretty awesome and a number of researchers are holding a figurative magnifying glass up to it (and you can too!). Some dogs let it all out at once — although, I’m pretty sure that’s not called “jetting”) — while others let a little out at a time. And then of course, there’s how they do it.

A recent study by Wirant and McGuire (2004) found that female Jack Russell Terriers assumed a number of urination positions, including the squat-raise (most common), squat, arch-raise, combination and handstand. They found that females “used the squat-raise and arch-raise postures more when off their home area then when on their home area.” If dog urination has a social function, it might make sense to present your urine in different ways depending on where you are and who you are encountering, don’t you think?

Here’s what you can do: When you’re out walking your dog, pay attention to their urine. Do they assume a different position if you take them to an area where they’ve never been or go infrequently? Or do they pull out the same tricks no matter where they are?

I want you to leave your urine reports below, and share early and often. My business is urine, and it can be yours too.

* What do you think? Better video title: 1) Wow, What a Pee, 2) Don’t Brag on Camera or 3) Did You Have a Good Pee, Mr. Rhino?

Photo: Flickr Nature’s Fire Hydrant via Mike Finkelstein Creative Commons

Wirant & McGuire. 2004. Urinary behavior of female domestic dogs (Canis familiaris): influence of reproductive status, location, and age. Applied Animal Behaviour Science 85, 335-348.

Pham et al. 2013. The Hydrodynamics of Urination: to drip or jet. Bulletin of the American Physical Society. 66th Annual Meeting of the APS Division of Fluid Dynamics. 
Volume 58, Number 18. November 24–26, 2013; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania

Julie Hecht About the Author: Julie Hecht is a canine behavioral researcher, science writer, and PhD student at the Graduate Center, CUNY. She would really like to meet your dog. Follow on Twitter @DogSpies.

The views expressed are those of the author and are not necessarily those of Scientific American.

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  1. 1. Biesiebos 3:49 pm 10/18/2013

    My neutered male standard poodle cocks a left leg when there’s dimensions on offer and squats when on flat grass or leaves. Oh, and he signs on the dotted line, ’cause he scratches before he pees.

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  2. 2. elbereth75 6:54 pm 10/18/2013

    I have to admit, as a dog parent, this article is really awesome. First, because rhino, peeing. Hello! Second, because observing my own dogs’…well, “go” is a source of fascination for me.

    I have a half-Boston terrier male, 6.5 years old, 20lbs, and a “red” colored miniature pinscher, 10 lbs, 3.5 years. Both neutered but they are rescues so I have no idea when they were (I think the min pin was neutered when in rescue at age 2, as she would was a show dog and would have eventually been bred.) The male Boston was, I think, according to his records, neutered at the appropriate time in his youth. If I recall.

    The Boston mix is known for spot peeing all over the neighborhood. You can tell when he gets to some of his favorite spots to mark (man does he pull!) but he doesn’t always hit those places, and there are plenty of “new” spots along the route he hits. He especially likes evergreen bushes or trees. Or curbs! :) When the two dogs are together (either in the yard, or walking) it never fails…when the female pees, the male pees on top or next to hers. (This poses a problem when he starts before she finishes! There have been “GET IN THE BATH NOW!” moments when going back to the house afterwards…)

    So it goes like this: We start out on a walk. He often finds a place or two to pee before she goes. She finds a spot (often grassy or soft). She is all in when she goes – empties her bladder down to drips. (More on her amusing pee stance in a second!) Then he has to pee on top of hers, or at least near it. We call it “owning” her pee.

    Then he will proceed to mark as normal at other spots. If it’s a long enough walk, he’ll be down to drips or nothing but STILL want to mark. This is when I make fun of him – “you don’t even have any left!” I say to him.

    The min pin will, however, sometimes – not always – mark. Even though she empties her bladder, and I don’t see that there’s anything, er, happening, she will sometimes do that female squat and mark. Often with a nearly-empty Boston marking it afterwards…

    The min pin has been a struggle. Due to a hoarding situation, she was mentally broken when we got her – and min pins are notoriously hard to housebreak as it is. But she had been kept in crates or inside more often than not, we think, just due to the nature of her situation. She learned to pee on any soft spot in her crate (it sops up the liquid at least). So she was (and is) bedless in crates. She has to suffer with sleeping on the plastic bottom. :) She still would pee in it overnight or if left too long though, for the first year. We think we’ve fixed her…

    Weirdly, this translated to peeing on other places where dogs normally do NOT. Her dog beds. The couch she lays on. If these not available, she would hit carpets. She did hit the hardwood floor (*preferable!!*) sometimes but not often. Our bed was hit a couple times before we decided to only crate at night.

    She has since earned her bedtime in our bed, thank goodness, and seems to be going *only* outside, at least, no accidents for over a month…we accidentally did not get her out since mid morning, took them out at 5pm, and she peed like she’d been holding it in that whole time. We felt bad, but were also like, YAY!

    The min pin has the weirdest three- or two-legged pee position. At least in the backyard (seems to do it less on walks). One leg is almost always up in the yard, sometimes she will balance for a moment on her two front legs as she squats. It’s hilarious.

    The Boston is a standard leg-lifter, and likes to hit things as high as he is able on walks. In the backyard sometimes he gets lazy and pees by pressing his stomach down or barely lifting his leg. Unless he is peeing on my mint plants. :-/

    By the way, and I think relevant, the Boston mix male is a somewhat reactive dog…dogs on leashes especially. The min pin is a nervous dog (does not like strange people) but a neutral greeter with other dogs (doesn’t back away, but doesn’t express great interest in greeting). She will bark her fool damn head off though at dogs down the street…

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  3. 3. Willow233 2:31 am 10/19/2013

    I have a 7 year old highly dog reactive Staffie (Patch). He was neutered very young ( 6 months) and has never learned to cock his leg and always squats to urinate. He has never really showed any signs of scent marking, only peeing for relief. We got a new dog a few weeks ago, and as part of getting them together we took them on a couple of social walks where they did some parallel walking etc. For the first time ever, on both of those walks, Patch cocked his leg deliberately on several spots. He has not done it again, and they now live together fairly calmly. Just very interesting behaviour.

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  4. 4. vagnry 5:19 am 10/19/2013

    Many years ago, I was fascinated by a rather small grey poodle, he peed higher than any other dog in the neighbourhood.

    He made a handstand, twisted his pelvis, and peed nearly straight upwards.

    Much bigger dogs were not able to match this, I once saw a dog trying so hard to lift its leg high enough it fell over.

    Link to this
  5. 5. Jefferis Terrien 4:42 pm 10/19/2013

    My 11-year-old Pekingese was raised in an apartment. What does this mean? She was taken out to pee four times a day, two of those walks were long. Other than that, she held it. That’s how it’s been for her for 11+ years.

    I and some of my friends at the park complain about the amount of time it takes to walk some of our dogs: “They have to pee on everything.” My step-mother from the country walked Jenna and exclaimed, “She pees on everything even when NOTHING comes out!” Meantime, her two Shi-tzus, one male and one female, peed a few times on the same walk and then they were ready to just WALK. Jenna, not so much.

    Then I got a second dog, a rescue female Pekingese. She didn’t pee on everything. I learned she grew up with a yard outside of LA in the desert. She calmly waited on the sidewalk, while Jenna went over to pee on everything. But it’s been four years…and slowly but surely, she’s starting to pee more frequently, on more stuff. She still doesn’t overmark Jenna, but she’s getting to be as much of a pain in the butt as Jenna.

    There is this guy who lives in my neighborhood. I see him some mornings. He walks his older female middle-size dog out of the complex gate, onto the patch near the sidewalk, and she squats and pees….and pees…and pees. I timed it once: 12 seconds! Then he turns right around and brings her back inside and presumably takes his suited-up self to work for the day. This is unusual for a city dog. They get walked…for a while. They don’t pee for long periods of time. They save up. Pee frequently.

    So here’s my theory about causality, which has two facets: biological and social.
    1. A dog brought up in an apartment from the time they are born learns that they get a walk and they get it all out throughout the course of the walk. They know their prescribed next chance to pee. A yard dog either can pee as much as they want in their own free-access yard or they are taught to run out and pee once and then run in and get it all done in that one pee. Biological necessity to pee regulated by pattern of opportunities to pee.
    2. A dog brought up in the city learns to communicate with the multitude of other dogs in their environment through this scent marking, whereas dogs brought up in an isolated suburb/rural yard with few neighborhood walks and fewer dogs around marking things that they walk past on a daily basis, simply haven’t learned this behavior. Social environment of dogs per square mile creates opportunity for pee-related communication.

    And there is my theory I’ve been thinking about and observing for the past few years.

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  6. 6. nekkceb 12:45 pm 10/20/2013

    We have a boxer-mix that was found on the highway, already neutered, she is a wonderful beast and great athlete whose company we have enjoyed for 7 or so years. Though she is female, she has many decidedly alpha characteristics. We thus call her the alpha bitch. She sometimes pees by lifting BOTH legs, we assume to get it higher, but you tell us why she does that. Like other posts above, we also note she will ‘dry pee’ late on a walk when I guess she is empty. On a walk with any other dog, she absolutely has to over-pee where the other dog just went, and that is often a ‘dry pee’.
    My partner has similar fascination with dogs, and we have two CD’s with songs devoted only to dogs. The second is just out, an ‘e.p.’, or extended play CD with 10 tracks. Thus a bit of play on words, titled ‘Dog E.P.’ (you can listen to both on

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  7. 7. pawsontherun 9:00 am 11/7/2013

    I have two spayed females – one does the squat raise most often while away from the house (and a squat at home) and seems to randomly (at home and when away) do the post pee scratching. The other does a squat no matter where we are and rarely does the post pee scratching. She does the post pee scratching so infrequently that she is so awkward at it and she cracks us up every time she tries. :)

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