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It’s a fact: Every dog pees. Most males lift their legs to do it, and many females squat to get the job done. Though both behaviors are necessary, some females raise a rear limb while urinating, too. But why do certain dogs choose specific pee postures?

Why Do Dogs Lift Their Legs to Pee?

“Urinating in both male and female dogs has several purposes,” says Dr. Mary Burch, Ph.D., certified applied animal behaviorist and director of the Canine Good Citizen Program. “The two main functions are eliminating urine and marking territory.”

Canine urine contains tiny odor molecules that tell other animals that a dog is present and the territory is off-limits. Because dogs rely on their sense of smell to figure out their surroundings, they quickly pick up the message to keep away. To express their ownership of a particular area, dogs pee on it.

Some may lift their legs as high as possible to mark their scent on elevated surfaces like trees, fire hydrants, or posts. Peeing at this elevation lets the dog leave their message near nose level, which makes it easy for other dogs to discover. The urine dribbles down and covers a larger area than if left on the lawn. The spread helps maximize the scent they leave behind.

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“When dogs walk by an elevated pee station, they can more easily smell urine on a vertical surface than on a flat surface,” Burch says. For other dogs who stop and sniff the lofty scene, the pungent aroma may also signal that the urinating dog is bigger.

Dogs looking for a challenge will pee on top of another dog’s potty spot. Rather than lifting a leg, some dogs prefer to lean their bodies forward when peeing and extend their hind legs back on the ground. “Male dogs who don’t lift a leg and opt for squatting do so because the position often causes discomfort on their rear leg joints or after experiencing hip or knee surgery,” Burch says.

Female Dogs’ Pee Postures

“Females usually squat to urinate because they can stay cleaner than if they lifted a leg,” Burch says. “Males try to point the pee away from their legs to keep them clean.”

Other female dogs lift their legs to pee. They will assume this position for several reasons. For one, the raised stance may feel more comfortable than squatting. While exercising outside their home, some female dogs prefer a different body stance for bathroom breaks. Intact females may mark with lifted legs during heat cycles. This gets the word out to receptive males that mating season has begun.

Female dogs also raise a leg to pee if they feel anxious and want to establish their territory. The female’s size may explain whether she is a squatter or a stand-up pee machine. Smaller females tend to lift their legs, while medium- and large-size females often do not. Other females will raise a leg while urinating to mark their territory.

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Some females opt for two pee positions: the squat and a half-squat half-leg-lift position called a “squat-raise.” Some are more likely to raise a rear limb while away from home. They will urinate frequently and mark their territory using objects. The downside to females lifting their legs is that they may dribble urine on themselves. For dogs with long coats, it’s best to clean the urine off, so it doesn’t irritate the skin under the coat. After spaying, many females tend to stop raising a leg, while others will continue the posture for years.

Maturity and Leg Lifting

“Before they mature, male dogs will squat to urinate, but once they reach adolescence, the leg will go up,” says Dr. Jerry Klein, Chief Veterinary Officer for the AKC. “The age of maturity varies from dog to dog, but generally it begins at about six months old in smaller dogs and about eight to twelve months in larger male dogs.”

Leg lifts may stop due to medical conditions. “If a male dog is neutered early in life, they may not have the hormonal influence that affects this behavior,” Klein says. “An older, arthritic dog may urinate by squatting rather than lifting its leg because it feels painful.”

Pee posture largely depends on your dog. If you see them doing something that seems out of the ordinary, or they are struggling to urinate, contact your vet.