Urine Trouble: Are Small Dogs Lying About Their Size When They Pee?

We like to think of our dogs as honest, loyal companions that wear their hearts on their fur. And, for the most part, those endearing characteristics are what make them stand out from other pets. But, according to the results of a new study, your dog may be sending messages to other dogs that aren’t quite so honest in nature. And the strangest part? He’s sending them with his pee.

After they’ve sniffed around long enough to finally find the perfect spot, most male dogs tend to lift one of their hindlegs before emptying their bladders. But there’s often more going than a simple tinkle on the shrubs. Many species, including dogs, use their urine for scent-marking purposes, which means that it’s left to convey information about themselves to other animals that may enter the area. But, according to the recently published results of studies conducted by Cornell University researchers, smaller male dogs may have adapted their potty habits to make other animals think they are actually larger in stature.

Dr. Betty McGuire, a researcher and senior lecturer at Cornell, has been studying the urination habits of dogs for over a decade, and she and her team have recently found a correlation between the size of a male dog and the height at which he lifts his leg to do his business. According to the two studies McGuire and her team conducted, the smaller dogs lifted their legs at a higher angle than the larger dogs during urination, which caused the smaller dogs to mark higher on their targets as a result. According to McGuire, this means the smaller dogs may be bluffing when marking territory to give other animals the impression that the marks were actually left by a larger, more physically imposing dog. Over the course of the two studies, researchers observed the urinary habits of more than 50 dogs for two years and determined that the smaller dogs were consistently raising their legs higher than the group average range of 85° to 147°.

So, it seems that smaller dogs may be masking their size when they pee as a sort of defensive mechanism to fend off possible rivals and threats, but could there be another reason for the behavior?  According to University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine Ethologist James Serpell, an alternative explanation could involve the habit of dogs to tend to mark over the territorial markings of other dogs. The behavior would be similar to how one gang might spray paint over another gang’s graffiti in a territory dispute, with the idea being that the area belongs to the one whose mark is on top.

Whatever the case, it should at least be clear that there’s more going on when you take your dog out for his morning constitution than meets the eye. If nothing else, these latest studies are enough to make any dog owner wonder what other strange secrets their furry little enigmas may be hiding in those adorable noggins.

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