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Any dog owner, particularly the owner of a male dog, will not have failed to observe that the toileting behaviour of our favourite canines can appear to be very ritualistic. Dogs often take a long time to find a suitable spot to do their business, and often, spend a lot longer then sniffing around, turning in circles, and preparing the spot where they wish to make their deposit!
If you have ever wondered what this is all about, why your dog might take so long to get on with things, or what it all means, you are not alone! Read on to find out why dogs are so ritualistic about their toileting behaviour, and what the various different behaviours that they might display can mean.
Male dogs like to cock their legs and pee on something, rather than just the ground, as doing this allows them to distribute their scent over a wider area. This is why dogs will often make a beeline for a tree or fence post, having walked right past several other suitable places to pee.
Dogs will often deliberately seek out the spot that another dog, or many dogs, have used to pee on, allowing even the most submissive of dogs to make their mark on the world and erase or mask the scent markers left by the other dog.
Dogs will also often pee in the same spot every time, given the choice, in order to firmly establish to others that in their view, this is their territory.
Bitches in heat will pee much more often than neutered bitches or how even they themselves behave when they are not in heat, as when they pee, they transfer their scent and the natural pheromones that they are in heat to passing dogs. This will indicate to an un-castrated male dog that there is a bitch in season nearby, and encourage the dog to seek her out.
Once a male dog finds a spot that a bitch in heat has used, they will usually pee on it themselves right away to attempt to mask the bitch’s scent and “reserve” her, before frantically searching around for where she might have gone! Spayed female dogs do not usually respond in any manner to the signs left by a bitch in heat, but another bitch in heat might go out of her way to mask the first bitch’s smell!
Welcome to the canine version of social networking; humans have FaceBook, dogs have ScentBook. When your dog sniffs about in a determined manner before picking just the perfect place to pee, they are scenting out the presence of the dogs that came before them, and scoping out how long ago the other dog or dogs were there, and who they were.
As well as simply telling your dog that another dog has passed that way, sniffing about will tell your dog the gender of the other party, if the other dog was healthy, and even, what the other dog has recently eaten!
While peeing and scent marking with urine is the most common means of canine communication via toileting, dogs are also often highly ritualistic about how they make their larger deposits too! Many of us are familiar with witnessing our dogs frantically scraping at the ground and possibly kicking up grass after they have pooped, and dog owners often mistakenly think that this behaviour indicates that the dog is attempting to bury or mask their deposit.
However, the actual reason behind scraping or kicking at the ground with the back legs after toileting is rather different; not only does the dog’s deposit leave a visual mark that they were there, but it also contains scent cues from the two anal glands, situated either side of the anus. So when your dog scrapes or kicks about after pooping, they are actually trying to increase the range of their scent pattern, making it noticeable to other dogs across a wider area, and making it more pronounced.
As mentioned, female dogs in heat will pee at every chance they get, to try to attract a mate; but male dogs, even neutered ones, will often pee or spray urine on as many objects as they can over the course of their walk. This form of scent marking fulfils a great many purposes to the dog; it allows them to distribute their scent over a much wider area than if they simply peed in one place, and eradicates the scent of other dogs that were there before. It helps a dog to establish ownership of a place, or indicate that they consider it as part of their territory too.
Finally, dogs can follow their own scent trails and discern them from that of other dogs, which can even help your dog to find their own way home if they get lost.
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