Study: Little Dogs Lie About Size With Their Pee Stream

New research suggests that little dogs may be sending a special signal in their ‘pee-mail’ that tells other dogs they are bigger than they really are.


Scientists have discovered that small dogs (as a small person myself, I prefer the term ‘fun-size,’) may be trying to trick other dogs into thinking they’re bigger than they are by lifting their legs higher when they mark trees and posts on potty breaks.


The higher and more exaggerated stream marks tell other dogs that that scent came from a bigger dog (in theory) and shows that even to dogs, size apparently does matter.


Related: Why Dog Pee Kills Grass (and What You Can Do About It)


Lynda Sharpe is an ecologist with the Australian National University in Canberra who studied the scents that dwarf mongooses left from their anal glands when they were doing handstands. She found that that left scent marks that seemed deceptively higher than a dwarf mongoose might leave, and she believes that’s just what this new research about dogs supports.


Betty McGuire is a behavioral ecologist at Cornell University and she and her team studied 45 dogs from two New York shelters. The chose adult males as they were more likely to lift their legs when peeing and then the researchers walked with the dogs regularly to document where they went to the bathroom, and with what aim they took. They recorded the eliminations with an iPhone and measured pee spots, though doing so without disrupting the dogs mid-stream was a challenge. Some dogs also had better aim than others, and some preferred to just let loose in tall grass so McGuire says the work of collecting data was time-intensive.


When the dogs made marks, the researchers measured how high they were, and then with the help of the video made a measure of the dog’s leg angle when raised. They looked at several hundred leg lifts over two years’ time and found that the smaller the dog, the more extreme the urine angle, and the higher appearing leg lift.

Related: Why Do Some Dogs Pee While Doing Handstands?


McGuire believes this is possibly how smaller dogs alert other dogs in the area to their size, and in essence, attempt to lie about being bigger. It could be that smaller dogs hope that the appearance of a bigger dog in the area may lead to fewer face-to-face confrontation with a big dog.


James Serpell is an ethologist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine who says that it may not be them lying, but just overmarking–their attempts to fully and thoroughly cover other dogs’ pee with theirs. They may just be lifting higher to get to urine scents previously left by bigger dogs. He also suggests that male dogs all try to lift as high as they can, but much like with humans, smaller dogs may be more flexible and able to reach higher.


Call it flexibility, call it lying through their teeth to show how badass they really are–whatever the reason, just goes to show you don’t ever count the little dog out!

Lori Ennis
Lori Ennis

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