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Why do male dogs lift their legs to urinate?

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Male dogs multi-task when urinating

Dogs lifting their legs to urinate.  It is a bit odd, if you think about it. After all, it isn't strictly necessary to get the job done. And female dogs don't generally do it (although some do). So what's the deal?

The answer has to do with...well...the purpose of peeing. Yes, that's what we said. You see, for a male dog, urination is not just a way of getting rid of liquid waste. It's also a way of sending a message to other dogs. And that message is: "I'm here, guys. And I want you to know it."  Dogs are territorial animals and urination marks a male dog's "claim" to a certain territory. But why the leg lift?

Marty Becker, DVM, author of "Why Do Dogs Drink Out of the Toilet?" explains that lifting the leg enables the dog to spray his urine higher, where other dogs are more likely to notice it and a breeze can more easily disseminate it.

Others speculate that by leaving their scent high up, a male dog makes itself appear bigger than he actually is: not just another guy, but someone the others won't want to mess with. Think about that the next time you see a pug balancing himself precariously on three legs, gamely reaching for the sky!

What if he doesn't lift his leg? 

If your dog doesn't lift his leg when urinating, don't worry.  Most male dogs learn to lift their legs sometime from six to 12 months of age.  However, some male dogs never learn this behavior and neutered dogs are more likely to squat to urinate than intact males.  

The bottom line is that there's no need to try to train your dog to this behavior.  If he's going to learn, he'll do it on his own.

Credit: Reviewed by John A. Bukowski, DVM, MPH, PhD and Susan E. Aiello, DVM, ELS
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