Canid Scent Marking (or, Why Dogs Pee on Things)

I took a lot of pictures of dogs peeing on things for this article.

Exhibit A, Razzle.

Exhibit A, Razzle.

If you own a dog, have walked a dog, or just have seen a dog on TV, you have probably seen a dog peeing. Particularly that stereotyped male raised-leg posture that Razzle is demonstrating above. (In this case, stereotyped refers to a fixed and repetitive set of movements, not a form of doggie-profiling.)

Dogs have a better sense of smell than we do. Heck, most mammals do; we just happen to be in a group- the simians- that ended up using vision a lot more than scent. At some point we more or less lost a means of communication that is absolutely fundamental to the lives of our hairy, warm-blooded cousins.

I’ve talked a bit before about how basic biological behaviors- such as sex or grooming or eating- can be co-opted by evolution to have a social meaning. For canids, urination has become a huge part of how they exchange information with one another.

We have a hard time studying this behavior because of our own limited sense of smell, and I think we are only beginning to grasp just how complex this scent-based communication can be.

I am about to tell you more than you ever wanted to know about dog pee.

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