Dog Bathroom Antics Explained

Dog Bathroom Antics Explained

On a recent errand run, I stopped by a local bank, post office and coffee shop. My dog companion, Bertie the Scottish terrier, had his own plans. Bertie, who belongs to a vacationing colleague, investigated the nether regions of a corgi mix near the bank, relieved himself briefly on a light pole while approaching the post office and performed an impressive tree-side No. 2 -- complete with vigorous hind leg back kicks -- as a grand finale toward the journey’s pooper scooper end.

While Bertie looks about as menacing as a furry doorstop, all of his actions connect him to his distant wild wolf ancestors. Both animals are what some experts have described as “in-your-face poopers.” Forget shy and squeamish bathroom behaviors. Wolves and dogs take pride in their poop, and they’re not afraid to share their eliminations with the rest of the world.

Poop Prominence
Isabel Barja, a zoologist at the Autonomous University of Madrid, recently had the inelegant task of inspecting wolf scat in a mountainous region of the Iberian Peninsula. In a study published in the journal Animal Behavior, Dr. Barja found that wolves chose to do their business on plants that maximized visual impact and odor distribution. She now believes that “in wolves, visual aspects govern the choice of plants for fecal marking.”

She explains that fecal marking is when an individual’s feces can provide information to others about territory control, identity, mating status, foraging efficiency and more. Lisa Peterson, director of communications for the American Kennel Club, says dogs do something similar when they pee or poop on fire hydrants and other urban landmarks. “A dog could probably smell another dog’s urine on a central fire hydrant from 30 yards away,” Peterson guesses.

Height Matters
Barja suggests wolves would go on the highest plants and trees possible were it not for limitations in their body size. That’s because height can be associated with strength and intimidation, especially among male dogs. Like an athlete pumping up his chest and muscles to look big and impressive, male dogs “literally compete to be top dog by leaving their mark on prominent landmarks,” Peterson explains.

That’s easier said than done for dogs like tiny terriers, Chihuahuas and poodles. When little dogs urinate, they often lift their back leg as high as possible, sometimes looking as though they’re falling over, because they’re trying to pee as high as they possibly can.

Hind Leg Kicks
Dogs also may perform a hind leg kicking ritual under certain circumstances. Think of a matador and bullfighter in a ring. Each may move its limbs back and forth in the substrate to demonstrate territory marking. Peterson has observed dogs doing something similar after running through an agility course.

Instead of performing a football player-type victory dance, the dog might “voom-voom” with its back legs after going to the bathroom, spreading around its feces scent. Agility and other group events involve many competing dog participants, so there’s often a lot of leg action taking place behind the scenes.

Butt Scoot Boogie
Even if your dog isn’t much of an athlete, you might have seen it scooting its butt along the ground or sniffing the rear end of other dogs. That’s because all dogs and wolves possess internal glands called anal sacs. They release “calling card” odors with each bowel movement. And when dogs sniff each other, they’re actually investigating the odors released by the anal sacs.

Butt scooting can be just another marking move, or it could be a health problem symptom, since the sacs may become infected. Be sure to do the following:

  • Regularly inspect the area to make sure it is clean, dry and free of welts and bumps.
  • Take note if your dog frequently licks the sac region, or if your pal frequently drags its rear end across the floor.
  • Be aware of unpleasant odors that could be coming from the sacs.
  • If you detect any of the above symptoms, visit your veterinarian, who will empty, or “express,” your dog’s anal glands. Some groomers can also perform this procedure, but if you suspect that your dog’s sacs are infected, it’s better to have your veterinarian do it.

Whether your dog is an Irish wolfhound or a fur ball like Bertie, there is definitely a method behind its bathroom behavior madness. While no owner looks forward to doggie cleanups, at least consider that you’re not just picking up any old poop. You’re hauling away a sophisticated marking tool, unique to your dog, which is part of a communication system that took thousands of years to evolve in your pet’s distant wolf ancestors. 

Tags: dog behavior

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Posted on June 3, 2011

Margaret says: Helms, Pumpkin (canned is the best, actually) can be added to any dog food. If your dog won't eat it, I put 1/2 can in "doggie" soup - chicken soup made with just inexpensive chicken parts and cut up carrots, onions and celery, & salt. Add only a little to dry dog food (2 tbls - 1/2, depending on size of dog) as it's just meant to be an enhancer. BTW, some dogs eat poop - if you want to stop this, pumpkin will do the trick better than any commercial product. (It is believed that the pumpkin will change the taste and the dogs won't like it.) Only a tsp. or 2 is necessary. For doggie treats, I peel & slice sweet potatoes (no seasoning necessary) and drizzle them with canola oil (or canola spray) and bake them for 1/2 hr in 400 degree oven. I even snitch a few. None of my dogs and fosters hasn't liked it.

Posted on January 29, 2011

Melinda Newberry says: Pat and Verda, your lab and lab mix are doing what their ancestors were bred to do:  bring you things.  Centuries ago, men discovered that certain dogs were natural fetchers and handy to have on a bird hunt, so they bred these dogs to other dogs who also had this trait.  You're seeing the results of selective breeding in action, enjoy it.

Posted on October 15, 2009

Becky says: My dog always used the backyard to have bowel movements...however my daughter came to live with us for 2 yrs. and her dog used the backyard my dog will not use the backyard..what can I do

Posted on April 6, 2010

crb says: the mom died when they were born and since they have been able to move we had to split them up because they will not leave each other personal areas butts and private and 2 are boys and 1 is a girl the boys are black brown and white and the girl is solid white and her mouth and feet were pink but they turned black they turned 5 weeks saturday and they are now eating canned puppy food but turn down water and drink around 2 to 4 Table spoons of cat milk. what is the matter and how will or long will it be beforethey want water?

Posted on September 15, 2009

pat says: my lab actually becomes very upset if ii can not find a gift to give to the visitor he has grabbed potatoes in a bag on the porch or any thng toys mostly to present to the person coming to visit i don't know why but its interesting hope to find out why

Posted on July 2, 2009

Cynthia Williams says: Chipper,13 yr old female,began ripping up the bedroom carpet recently. We took Chipper in when she was less than 6 weeks and abandoned near a bart station. After her first weekend, when we left her home alone Monday morning in the bathroom, she removed the rubber baseboards, dug through sheet rock, gnawed at the wood wall studs- trying to get through to our bedroom where she had slept with us, the night before. The behavior type was not repeated until the recent carpet incident. What do you suggest?

Posted on August 25, 2009

Sally says: Of course your dog prefers pupporoni - it's loaded with sugar. Pick a high quality dog food and stick to it, picking certain times of the day (morning and night) to feed her. If she doesn't finish her food within a certain time (oh, 20 to 30 minutes or so) put it away until the next feeding time.Ignore the begging. NO table scaps - that's not good for your dog's health or behavior. Trust me on this one, your dog will start eatting dog food in a week or two. And watch how much you're giving her. An overweight dog is an unhealthy as an overweight person and that can start all sorts of health problems. (think $ at the vet) I recommend a dry food as this will help to clean her teeth.

Posted on June 19, 2009


Posted on June 17, 2009

VERDA CHILDERS says: What can I do to stop my dog from jumping on people? Also, when he greets you at the door he has to have a toy or something in his mouth, can you tell me why he does this? I got him from the pound when he was 2 yrs old and he seems to have some strange behavior. He is part Pit, Lab and Chow.

Posted on May 30, 2009

helms says: my cairn terrier is 14 yrs old on iams and scootds i take her to the vert, they want her to have more fiber like pumpkin canned no sugar,is hard rto find i give her beans she still scoots they exprfess the gland what else can we do

Posted on July 26, 2011

shanna says: MARGARET- onions are very toxic to dogs. please stop feeding it to them!

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