“P-mail” – how dogs use urine to communicate

Dogs may not have access to email or social media, but they have their own ways of communicating long distance. One of those ways is through their urine.

If your dog frequently stops to pee when you’re out walking him, it doesn’t mean he’s having bladder problems. He’s just doing what dogs do – communicating with others of his kind by leaving urine markers. While most of our domesticated dogs are sterilized, they’re still instinctual creatures, so you’ll probably see some of the following urinary behaviors in your own canine when you’re on walks together.

  • Urine can tell another dog how he was feeling when he peed. Dogs produce different hormones when exhibiting different emotions, and these hormones can be detected in their urine. When another dog sniffs the urine, he can determine the “pee-er’s” stress levels.
  • Male canines (both domesticated and wild) tend to prefer peeing on vertical surfaces (like fire hydrants and trees), but why do they do it? It’s partly because the added height allows the scent to be carried more easily by the wind, and also because it conveys the dog’s size to other canines. The higher up the object the pee mark is, the bigger the dog.
  • All canines use urine, as well as secretions from the preputial glands, to mark their territories. A sexually mature unneutered or wild male dog is more likely to urinate when a potential mate or male competitor is present. A feral female dog is more likely to leave her scent when near her nest or den.
  • Unneutered and wild male dogs are more likely to raise their legs to pee (as opposed to squatting) in the fall and winter, likely because this is mating season. They will sometimes even raise their legs when their bladders are empty, performing what is called a raised-leg display, or pseudo-urination.
  • The height to which a dog raises his leg also seems to be associated with getting a mate, defending territory, or intimidating other males. One study found that male dogs raised their legs higher when near the edges of their territories, or when they were with their mates. But proportionally, smaller dogs raised their legs much higher than their big friends. One theory is that this is their way of making themselves seem larger, like a betta with its fins, or a cat with his fur!