Why Do Dogs Pee on Vertical Objects?

Dogs pee on vertical objects for a valuable reason: they want to grab attention. In order to fully understand this dog behavior, it helps putting ourselves at a dog's nose level and seeing the world through their powerful sniffers. Dogs perceive the world differently than us and smell things that us humans didn't even know existed. So let's take a closer look into why dogs pee on vertical objects and why they are aiming so high.

It's a common scene: dog owners walk their dogs and their dogs pee on vertical objects. Common targets are lamp posts, trees, bushes and the quintessential fire hydrant, often over-represented in many cartoon strips. The behavior may seem quite peculiar if we think about it, but from a dog's perspective, there are valid reasons for lifting legs on vertical objects. 

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When a dog sniffs, his vomeronasal organ fires a signal to the hypothalamus, an area of the brain known for controlling sex drive

Pee From a Dog's Perspective

To us humans, pee is nothing more than just liquid waste that is readily flushed away in the toilet. From a dog's perspective instead, pee is much, much more. Pee is so rich of information, that dogs love spending several minutes a day just leisurely investigating and deciphering pee with their noses.

What kind of information can be deduced by dogs though from simply examining a small trickle of pee? Interestingly, it's amazing the amount of information dogs can gather from just the mere presence of liquid waste. 

Dog pee is known for containing pheromones, basically chemical scents that reveal a lot of individualized information pertaining the dog who left it behind. From sniffing pee, dogs can deduce a lot of interesting details such as the dog's sex, reproductive status, age, health and even what the dog recently ate. Pee to dogs is like business cards to humans.

It is courtesy of a special organ known as the Jacobson organ, also known as the vomeronasal organ, that dogs can interpret pee. This organ is found in the dog's nasal cavity and connects to the roof of the dog's mouth through a small duct known as the incisive papilla. 

Once pheromones are detected by the vomeronasal organ, the brain takes over so the dog can be focused on deciphering information. Every dog's pee is unique in its own individual way, so all dog scent markings act as personal signatures. 

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A tree from a dog''s perspective is similar to a big bulletin board or a signed guest book, indeed, many dogs are eager to stay on top of the neighborhood news and will take a sniff

Doggy Bulletin Board

So now that we know how dogs perceive pee, let's take a closer insight into why they prefer to pee on vertical objects. Why do dogs pee on vertical objects? 

Dogs really want their pee to be noticed, so in order to gain exposure, they need to rely on some astute tactics, so what do they do? They hike their leg high and deposit their urine on vertical surfaces so that their "pee mail" is strategically posted right at another dog's nose level!

For sake of comparison, the act of peeing on vertical surfaces is similar to what humans do when the place their business cards on a community bulletin board that is strategically placed right at perfect eye level, so convenient for others to see!

Just as humans choose to place their business cards in the center of the bulletin board or make their business cards stick out using vibrant colors, dogs may decide to pee up high or just nearby the vertical object. 

A Longer Expiration Date 

On top of making pee mail extra easy for other dogs to find, there's another big perk that comes with peeing on vertical surfaces.

 According to Bruce Fogle, veterinarian and author of the book "Know Your Dog," the scent of urine on a vertical surface, has a tendency to last longer compared to an horizontal one. 

On top of this, any scent that is above ground tends to be carried around with the air much farther and it is less likely to be diluted by the rain compared to horizontal surfaces which tend to form puddles, observes Stanley Coren, in the book "Do Dogs Dream?: Nearly Everything Your Dog Wants You to Know."

Now, you know exactly why dogs love to pee on tires and why fire hydrants rank high as a dog's favorite place to urine mark!

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Small dogs often aim high to give the impression of being quite large

A Matter of Social Aspirations

Often, dogs who tend to aim high on vertical surfaces are dogs with big aspirations. Bigger animals tend to be leave more of an impact so some dogs simply aim high in hopes that other dogs will think they are dealing with a very large dog. 

Some dogs can even get quite athletic and assume interesting dog peeing positions. They'll raise their legs high over their heads leaning way back and some even will go as far as doing a handstand on their front legs!

 These dogs are eager to attain such heights because they likely are instinctively aware of the fact that the higher their urine mark, the less likely other dogs will be capable of marking over it. 

Did you know? Intact female dogs in heat may be attracted to sniffing marked areas on vertical objects so to have an idea of the variety of mates they can choose from. 

Intact female dogs are also more likely to mark on vertical objects if there is competition going on due to other sexually active females sharing the neighborhood. Indeed, according to Coren, in Scandinavian countries where dogs are not spayed or neutered as much as abroad, female dogs are seen raising their legs at a much higher rate. 

Now That You Know...

As seen, dogs are naturally drawn to marking vertical objects and they will also want to sniff to keep up with who has been visiting their district. If your dog is on a mission of sniffing and marking, this can make for a very long walk! Following are some tips if your dog has a passion for urine marking.

  • Train your dog to heel. If you keep your dog focused on you, he'll be less tempted to  sniff and mark every few steps. Make sure to arm yourself with high-value treats so that you can reward your dog for walking nicely by your side. 
  • Find a middle ground. On walks, ask your dog to heel but reserve a part of the walk to sniffing and marking. Simply loosen your grip on the leash as you say "go sniff" allowing your dog to sniff and mark as he pleases until you ask him to heel again.
  • Did you know? Sniffing on walks is quite a tiring activity to dogs. "The walk plus sniffing will help tire out the dog and make the walk more productive" says dog trainer Amber Walker. 
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