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Why do dogs lift their paws to pee?

You might have browsed the internet and stumbled upon a funny video of a pug urinating while doing a handstand. Although it’s indeed amusing, this is actually one of 12 different elimination postures dogs use while urinating.

The handstand, among some of the most popular options like the “lift” and “squat,” was documented in a 1970s study dedicated to canine elimination patterns.

It’s commonly believed that male dogs lift their legs to urinate, while females squat. While statistically true, this often leads pet owners to think that any male not lifting its leg or any female not squatting may have behavioral or medical problems.

Let’s find out what’s behind the desire of dogs to lift their legs to pee.

Why Dogs Lift Their Legs to Urinate

So, what makes a male or even a female dog lift its leg? Fortunately, science has provided an answer.

Both in males and females, urination serves two different purposes: the elimination of liquid waste and territorial marking. Males tend to scent-mark more frequently, which contributes to their sometimes preferring the leg-lifted position. Lifting the leg facilitates urination on higher surfaces, such as trees or fire hydrants, and covers a larger area, leaving a stronger signal than urine on the ground.

Do All Male Dogs Lift Their Legs to Urinate?

The leg lift or leg raise is not an innate habit in most puppies. A 2018 research article, co-authored by Dr. Betty McGuire, who holds a Ph.D. in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology from Cornell University, studied scent marking in shelter pets.

The study showed that there are two predominant postures that male dogs will use for urination: the classic leg lift and a stance known as the juvenile lean posture or the “racehorse pose.”

Most male dogs begin with the “lean” stance, where both hind legs remain on the ground, the body is tilted forward, and the hind legs are stretched back.

As a male dog begins to reach maturity, it increasingly lifts its leg during urination. Sexual maturity in male puppies usually starts around 6 months of age in small breeds and around 9 months in medium and large breeds, while in some giant breeds it may not occur until a year old.

However, you can influence how a male dog will urinate. Working dogs (like guide dogs or bomb-sniffing dogs) are often trained not to mark their territory so they do not urinate on surfaces where you do not want them to.

Even if you don’t have a working dog but want to keep vertical surfaces around your home and yard clean, you can encourage a puppy not to lift its legs to pee. Keep young male puppies away from vertical surfaces during urination so they don’t start lifting their legs.

Why Do Some Female Dogs Lift Their Leg to Urinate?

Male dogs are not the only ones who mark their territory with urine. Scent marking is a common form of communication used by most mammals of both sexes.

In a 2004 study dedicated to urination habits in female dogs, researchers found that the further away from home the female dogs were, the more likely they were to frequently urinate and direct their urine onto objects. This same study showed that female dogs have two characteristic postures for urination — the ever-popular squat and a combination of squat and leg lifting called “squat-raise.”

Read more about the reasons for this behavior here – https://pottybuddy.co/blogs/potty-buddy-blog/why-does-a-female-dog-lift-her-leg-to-pee

What if My Male Dog Doesn’t Lift His Leg to Urinate?

There are several urination postures that are normal for males — leg lifting is just one of them. The urination posture they use depends on a number of factors, including their position and even their breed. Most dogs solidify their stance preference by adulthood.

It is also possible that dogs change their urination posture in response to stress. In the shelter study conducted by Dr. McGuire, she noted that dogs in highly stressful situations, such as those recently admitted, may revert to the lean posture. Many dogs will also have an ambidextrous or ambilateral stance, meaning they will alternate lifting their left or right leg.

If your male (or female) dog changes its urination posture, it could be a sign of a medical problem, such as joint pain or urinary tract issues. If your dog has changed its urination posture, take it to a vet to ensure there are no health concerns.