Great comments about who goes when and where, keep it up. I love hearing from you. It is truly amazing how little we know about dog behavior, isn’t it? But here’s some more of Anneke’s results, this time from good-ole-fashioned, ethological studies observing animals in their natural environment–in this case, the dog park.
Dr. Lisberg observed olfactory investigation and urination at the entrance to a popular dog park, recording who urinated when and where, and who did Ano-Genital investigation (AG), or sniffed each other’s butts. She found that males and females were equally likely to urinate immediately upon entering the park, but that males often urinated more frequently than females. No surprise there. “Resident” males (dogs already there) counter marked (over or adjacent marked) more than females and also spent more time investigating the urine of dogs entering the park.
Within each sex, tail base position was correlated with urination and sniffing: Animals with high tail base position did more marking and investigating that those with low; as a matter of fact no females in the study with a “low tail base position” urinated when entering the park, or counter marked the urine of those who had.
To me the most interesting result relates to Anneke’s observations on urine marking and Ano-Genital investigation. AG was done more by the residents than the individuals entering, and was done more by dogs with relaxed postures. However, there was no relation of sex or social status on AG rates.
Here’s the part I find most interesting: Entering dogs, as we all would predict, were often swamped by ‘residents’ doing AG investigation. We all know that this is a potentially tense situation for the entering dog…i.e, everyone wants to know everything about you, but they have to get their nose under your tail to find it out. Anneke found a strong tendency for dogs who were subjected to AG investigation to trot a few feet away and urinate. The residents would then sniff the urine (rather than the dog) and the close contact would terminate. Dr. Lisberg has speculated that urine marking is a good way for dogs to convey social information to other dogs while breaking off the tension involved in the close body contact involved in AG investigation between strangers. Sort of chemical Facebook page that prevents too much intimacy too soon.
That makes me wonder about situations in which dogs are forced to greet one another without being given a chance to urinate (on sidewalks on leash, inside at doggy day care). We all know that many dogs seem to have no social problems when off leash, but are problematic on leash. There are many reasons for that, no doubt, and I talked about many of them in Feisty Fido. However, until Anneke’s results came out I hadn’t thought about the importance of dogs being able to communicate necessary social information through urine rather than encounters in which the dogs are forced into close contact.
So much to thing about… I am so glad that Anneke is at UW-Whitewater and is continuing her studies. Look for her sometime soon, I hope, speaking somewhere like APDT..
Meanwhile, right now it is Wisconsin at its worst. Rainy, muddy, icy, cold, damp, dark, brown… not much to enjoy outside except the knowledge that this is the only road to spring. Here’s Lassie and Willie after asked to “go pee” before I left home for the office to post this. This scene replicates itself on a daily basis, like clockwork: I say “Dogs, go pee. Willie goes and urinates while Lassie stands and watches him. As he leaves, she goes over and urinates, not always exactly on top, but where her nose is directly above his urine. (Does she think she is over marking exactly? Does she know her urine comes out a good foot behind her nose?! Does she care!?)
Willie is almost done, Lassie walks up toward him:
Not totally done yet, Lassie just has to wait:
This time Lassie does seem to be going exactly on top of Willie’s urine. Maybe I need to watch more closely…. Hummm.
Chemical Facebook page? 🙂
(who just finished the Other End and loved it!)
Kerry L. says
Of the dogs I’ve had, only one spayed female, the top dog at the time, overmarked the other dogs’ urine. She did a lot of marking and overmarking on walks and in the park. Currently I have 3 neutered males who are always marking then overmarking each others urine. The spayed female is interested in sniffing but not marking. The males are all status seekers but the female could care less. Kerry
I have one 10 yo male MinPin who almost pushes my other, younger male aussie/pap mix, out of the way so he can pee on top of the younger dog’s pee. My older female MinPin will adjacent mark anyone’s pee, but hardly ever over-marks. She does lift her leg, though. The male MinPin will even be done with his “duty” and head back into the house, then from the window notice the younger male peeing and scratch at the door to run out and over-mark. My female will adjacent mark the male MinPin’s pee, but hardly ever marks any where around the youngster’s pee. The youngster is very submissive.
Okay. Try to explain this one: My male dachsie and the female shepherd both obsess over a cuz ball. (Those weird looking squieky things with rubber legs) Monster (the dachshund) finally got posession of it, which in itself is a task because he weighs 22 pounds and his female counterpart, Tessa, almost a hundred. Neither here nor there: He had posession and what does he do ? He drops the ball, pees on it and leaves. Tessa walks over, sniffs it, looks disgusted and picks it up with one tooth by one rubber leg and brings it over……… to ME !!!!
Any explanations on that one ? 😀
Cindy M says
I wonder whether Lassie is using Willie as the “Good Housekeeping seal of approval” for that particular spot as a good one to pee on. At 14, maybe it’s easier for her to use him as an indicator rather than find her own spot??
I’ve had 5 ridgebacks so far, 2 males, 3 females. Both males always overmarked females’ pee and usually overmarked other males’ contributions, both before and after they were neutered. My oldest girl was a leg-lifter her entire life, and would adjacent pee, but not necessarily overmark. My younger girls don’t usually overmark or adjacent mark, but will advertise by peeing in bodies of water (streams, ponds, and lakes, not water buckets, fortunately) if available. They will also do what Dr. Lisberg described and move several feet away to pee when arriving at the dog park. Interesting topic.
My 2 year old King Shepherd is an only dog and a spayed female. We are lucky enough to belong to a play group of all Shepherd-sized dogs and larger. Gracie’s best friend, Marley, is a Giant Malamute intact female of approximately the same age.
While all the dogs in the group run to sniff where one has just gone, the only one I have ever observed overmarking is Marley. The only one I have seen her overmark is Gracie. The “girls” really are BFFs, with Marley the more confident of the two. Marley’s mom and I get a good giggle out of it—as they, like human teen girls, run to the restroom to primp and pee, because they simply must do everything together!
Liza Lundell says
I’ve been thinking about the study, and wonder about the selection of a dog park as a site. I know this is where you can see a lot of dogs, but aren’t they all pre-selected (by their humans) for a certain range of personality traits? I would never take my dogs to a dog park. They don’t necessarily play nicely with others, and I would never expose them to a random selection of unknown dogs. I wonder if the researcher would see a lot more overmarking by dogs with personalities that don’t lend themselves to dog park play?
Mary Beth says
I wonder how the study would go at a dog boarding facility where the dogs all play together. Not as random as a dog park, but you’d still see lots of dogs joining and leaving the group.
My male will mark on my girls as if he’s too impatient for them to get done, so he just pees on them. Gross, and causing many a bath for the unsuspecting girl. Yet, he doesn’t do a whole lot of overmarking. Occasionally he will, but not always. Oh Trish…this topic now has me watching all the dogs pee in the yard! Haven’t discussed this one with my significant other who already thinks I’m crazy with the way I stare with fascination watching all the behaviors the critters exhibit.
After I tried to explain to my husband how interesting this topic has been to me and to many others, his comment was “Looks like you all have too much time on your hands”. But it really is interesting reading about different behaviors centered around pee! Today’s Washington Post comic “Red and Rover” by Brian Basset is even based on “pee-mail”! If I was better on the computer, I’d post it here.
I’m sorta new to dog behavior studies and such, so I’m just wondering about the correlations between tail position and presumed status. Have other studies been done that show that a dog that usually holds its tail high is also usually higher status? If so, then this is a really interesting study, but if not then you might as well be correlating marking behaviors to nose color.
Such interesting comments! Here are a few back:
I love the comment about the dog who urinated on the ball.. a truly great way to maintain possession even in one’s absence! (Wild foxes pee on food often… so don’t they mind eating their own urine?)
Interesting point about whether Lassie is using Will’s spot as a indicator of where to go. It’s a good hypothesis, but I suspect not true in this case, since she’s always waited for another dog to pee first (used to be another female, Pippy Tay), even when young. Also, her nose seems to be extremely good, maybe better now that her ears and eyes are so dimmed? She’ll go out and sniff like crazy, but always keeps an eye on where Will goes. The only time she goes away from his spot is when she has been inside for awhile and needs to go right away.
Also an interesting point about dog parks.. I so agree that they are ‘unnatural’ in some ways (but then, what part of a dog’s life isn’t?). Most importantly, keep in mind that the first part of the study, the “urine course” was done on a dog’s home territory.
The question about tail position and status is a very good one. It is overwhelmingly agreed that high tail posture correlates with confidence and/or high status (not necessarily the same thing of course!). I interpret it as “status conscious” meaning dogs who care deeply about who is who in the hierarchy, and want to be seen as having a lot of social freedom (which is all status is, really). However, what about good research? Dr. Lisberg did indeed do the research: she first did a study in which she tossed a toy stuffed with food between 3 dogs (at as equal a distance as she could manage). This was on territory, only with owners who had at least 3 dogs and stated they were not afraid their dogs would fight (thus, there was some obvious narrowing of the pool, but that couldn’t be eliminated and make the study safe). She threw the object 3 times, and recorded who got the object. (This is basically the definition of dominance… and how all the first dominance studies were done: there’s food everyone wants equally, who gets it? In Anneke’s study, almost always it was the same dog, and almost always it was the dog who exhibited a high tail posture while walking through the “urine course.” Interesting, hey?
And finally, oh yes, we are all simply crazy to be obsessed with this… but this is indeed the life of animal behaviorist, as well as dog lovers all over the world! I will never, ever forget sitting in a seminar at UW-Madison, a weekly meeting of scientists and students interested in behavior from many disciples. I was about to bite into my sandwich, and then stopped when I realized that I was carefully watching close ups of the vagina of a baboon. I looked around the room and there were about 35 people riveted on the slides, following the talk about whether the female was ovulating or not… somehow I fell out of the academic bubble and realized we were all looking at close ups of, uh, genitalia while eating our salads, sandwiches and drinking our sodas. I felt like the Gary Larson cartoon in which a grazing cow jerks up her head and says: “GRASS! This is grass! We’ve all been eating GRASS!”
I’m so glad I found your blog- I have been working my way through all the archives and have to say I am riveted by the discussions.
I’ll be following my dogs around watching their tail posture and marking behavior now.
Has anything been done on whether dogs mark more or less depending on who is watching? That is, if one male is watching will a more subordinate male wait until he is otherwise engaged to mark over his urine? Or a more dominant male mark more if the subordinate male is nearby vs. having left his mark and gone somewhere else?
I’m guessing foxes don’t mind their own urine. I have seen male dogs licking the spot after the girls went. Sorry, this is not a time to be eating sandwiches.
Lorraine Lapetina says
My 8+yo rescued, f. GSD is a big scent marker. I was quite surprizes – never had a female before and didn’t know they did this. I’ve had Caprice for 4 years and she is a work in progress -forever and so am I. Caprice is reactive to other dogs, fearful of many things – some of which we have conquered – such as people. She will sniff anyplace a dog has been as if she is inhaling every molecule of scent there is. Sometimes she will react to the scent of a dog as we leave the house. Her reaction to dogs where I live is different than at parks. Here she will grab the leash and pull and shake it. I have used the 2 leash set up but had a crush to one of my fingers that got caught. She is more reactive in the dark. She also had loose stools when I got her – no matter what I tried. I finally started giving her Metamucil with all her meals and that has helped. Probiotics did not.
She will go to the dog park and with a slow intro with her outside and sniffing the dogs as they come to the fence, I have had success. Sometimes she is fearful, sometimes playful and sometimes dominant. I always take her out when her behavior or that of another dog causes me discomfort.
I worked with a vet behaviorist and we went the Gentle leader/Easy walk harness with a coupler to the leash. This is when she started grabbing the leash and I have not been able to break this. I finally gave up on this when I was bitten several time when we both grabbed for the leash. I don’t think she liked her back to the other dog. I now use an Ezydog harness which has wide webbing. This is the best of everything I have tried ( probably 50 different products including custom made harness).
I am starting some of your exercises with her and will be combining them with BAT setups when the time is appropriate. I do work with a trainer one on one.
Caprice is a very sweet dog and loves people! I will never give up on her.
I am thrilled to stumble across this specific topic. Dog’s and scent. I have a lovely, but very reactive, BC/Aussie, who travels with me constantly. In some ways the amount of travel and introduction to new and varied locations I believe are causing much of the reactive behaviors displayed around other dogs. Very aggressive barking, lunging, mostly a fear/anxiety mixed with frustration that he can’t go to the other dog. I’ve been more aware of his focus on sniffing every place around our current hotel and walking path. He spends a good deal of time sniffing all the other dog scents close to the building, and is somewhat tense when doing so. I hadn’t thought to be observing the tail posture, will start doing that. When we are on our walk he is very attentive to me for the first 1/3 of the walk, which is on a city street. When we go on to the walking/bike path, the sniffing behavior takes on a new level of intensity, We can walk but a couple of feet before he is sniffing at something again. All focus on me is gone.
I’m trying to build up his comfort around other dogs, but we don’t do dog parks. He has 2 places in the country he can play with other dogs in a calm, normal manner and no aggression occurs, nor does any of the barking and lunging I observe when do is a stranger.
Currently, my dog and I are living in a hotel in Missouri for a few months, there are 2 other dogs staying in this hotel that enter and exit the building through the same door we use. Henry’s behavior when he gets to the first of the 2 sets of exit door is very different if one of the other dogs has passed through the area a short time before we go through. If no dog has recently passed through, he is calm and sits and waits for the door. (It’s a little hall way at the bottom of a stairwell with 2 sets of doors, perfect for capturing enough doggy smell until the door has been opened and closed a few times. Once out the door, Henry immediately starts smelling the grass with great intensity to identify all the dog smells.
I’m going to have to find Annaka’s article so I can read that. The behavior study might help me develop alternate techniques in reducing Henry’s anxiety about strange(r) dogs. If I can get that managed, I can move on to one of any number of his other issues.
I thank you for this blog. It offers up so much for me to think about as I write my own daily observations and training plans for my dog. So many things to work on and you can’t do them all at once. I’m lucky to find great trainers around who understand my desire for positive reinforcement training, will be looking into BAT more when I get back home in a few months.
I still dream of finding a friend or two in the dog world that i could work with. Maybe it’s time to spend more time volunteering at the animal rescue shelter near home, when I’m home.
Anyway, I’m meeting a new trainer tomorrow so this topic will be discussed and I’ll see if she has any insights. I’m not concerned about the sniffing on the walk, just at the door way, it really amps up the anxiety and takes a while to get back to threshold.
Thanks for leaving these posts up for so long, and allowing people like myself to continue to post comments, 2 or 3 years after the blog post. It helps us all.