Last week I talked about John Bradshaw’s new book, Dog Sense, which I am enjoying immensely. In it, he discusses why wolf behavior doesn’t necessarily predict dog behavior as well as any book I’ve seen. If you’re interested in this issue you definitely want to read this book.
In response to last week’s post, some thoughtful comments came in about “over marking” behavior, when one dog urinates directly on top of the urine of another. It’s traditionally been assumed to be a status-related behavior in which one dog ‘covers’ the scent of another with his or her own. However, if you look at the behavior closely, it’s not at all clear that the hypothesis holds up. Of course, as I’ve discussed in other posts, the whole concept of dominance has been mis-used and mis-understood by the public and some dog trainers for decades. (Bradshaw does a great job explaining what “dominance” is and isn’t, as has Suzanne Hetts in speeches and on her website, Animal Behavior Associates.). Remember that dominance is ONLY about who will take possession of a limited resource, and it might even be related to only one specific resource, not any others.
Nonetheless, dogs do greet one another with tail up or tail down, and they appear to be posturing in such a way to signal something–confidence? an interest in social status? But the data and observations about over marking are sending US mixed signals. My female BC Lassie always, always over marked Pippy Tay’s urine; she would actually stand behind Pippy and wait for her to go. I swear there were times on cold nights when both of us would exchange “Pip, would you hurry up and pee please?” glances. But Lassie was in no way what anyone would describe as the “dominant” or “high status” female. That was my Gr Pyr Tulip, seemed to pay no attention to where anyone else urinated at all. At the time I interpreted it thus: Tulip was exceptionally secure in her ability to possess whatever resources she wanted–none of the dogs would even think about trying to take a bone out of her mouth, and she had no need to make a point with her urine. Pippy was the super smart, obsequious one: she met all other dogs by puddling into the ground, ears back, tongue flicking, but she was nonetheless really good at getting what she wanted . Lassie’s social signals seemed to be middle-of-the-road, and I used to interpret her over-marking of Pippy Tay’s urine as a status-related one, something like the folks in corporate middle management jockeying for position while the CEO doesn’t have to worry about such things anymore.
But now I’m not sure… all I’m ever really sure of is the importance of staying open minded and to regularly re-examine one’s beliefs and assumptions. This is a perfect example of why we need more research, because we simply don’t know what over marking means. In her experiments on urine marking a few years ago, Dr. Anneke Lisbberg found no females over marking at all, but that the males who over marked tended to show the highest tail base position and be the most likely to get a bone thrown between them and another dog. I was greatly surprised that she found no females who over marked in her research–could that be because the urine was presented on a vertical surface and females simply couldn’t physically squat over it? (I’ve got a call into Dr. Lisberg, I’ll keep you posted.) By the way, if you missed it, there are two other posts about scent marking in the blog, click here to read the first.
One of the comments on last week’s post– that her “low ranking, submissive female” always waited to over mark another dog’s urine–got me thinking about this issue again. Her suggestion, an interesting one, is that her dog was finding a way to “join up” with the other dog. I rather like this interpretation, except it would never explain Lassie’s behavior. Lassie and Pip never fought or even had any visible tension between them, but neither did they seem to enjoy each other. They basically ignored one another.
What about you? Do any of your dogs over mark the urine of another in your household? That of others? (Note that Dr. Lisberg distinguishes between “adjacent marking,” or going within a few feet of urine and “over marking,” or going on top of the other urine. Be sure to make that distinction yourself if you write in.) I’d love to hear your experiences.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: Willie is in surgery right now. I’d love to tell you that a PhD and 23 years as a behaviorist has made it easier to get through all this, by alas, it’s not so. If anything, ignorance is bliss. I’ve spent enough time with vets and had enough clients over the years to know too many horror stories of things gone wrong. What’s especially challenging is that Willie looks sooo good right now. With all the rest he’s had, along with great physical therapy and exercises, he’s superficially looking strong and sound. That explains why, when the vet did another exam today and it was obvious that flexing his shoulder caused him pain I said “Oh good!” I needed reminding why I am about to have my dog undergo an invasive procedure with a long recovery time. So the great news is that we’ll have the surgery behind us soon, and then it’s all downhill to a full recovery. It looks like he should be back up and better than ever by mid-August and oh my my that will be wonderful!
It’s stunningly beautiful out here right now. Low 60’s (actually was frost on the ground this morning!) and blue sky sunny with horse tail wispy clouds and fresh baby mint-colored leaves budding out in the trees. The Orioles are singing like flutes, and last night I went out with Willie and worked the sheep for one brief, heavenly moment before that is out of the question for two or three monhts.
By the way, Snickers, Truffles and their lambs went to a great new home on Saturday. I needed to cull them from the flock, but wouldn’t ever ship one of my ewes, so they went to a kindly woman who needed sheep for her working BC. I am confident they’ll be well cared for and it feels great to have found them such a good home. The flock seems so small now! Redford the Ram is at a friend’s and I now only have 5 ewes and 12 lambs.
Here’s Willie last night, right after his pre-surgical exam at the vet school. The harness is so that I could lift him out of the car without him having to jump down.
Ellen Pepin says
First of all let me wish you and Willie a speedy recovery. My Shepherd/Rottweiler? mix, Dakota, was supposed to have surgery this morning for a growth on his lip. When we got to the vet, the growth had gotten smaller so the vet felt that he did not need to operate. Instead, he will watch it for another month. May your news be just as good.
As far as peeing over another dog’s urine, my female collie, Tess, does that all the time. When I walk her, she has to stop and sniff every few feet. In most cases, she will then pee on the spot where she smelled another dog. She is not a dominant dog at all. In fact if food were dropped between them, Dakota would make sure he gets it. He has even attacked Tess if she tries to get it. Now, most of the time she lets him have it. However, for her safety, we physically separate them around food. Dakota will only get aggressive around food.
Dakota will also pee on the spots where he smells another dog. Around other dogs, most of the time he will not try to dominate others. With a minority of the dogs, he will try to hump or stand over them.
Fascinating topic! I’ve noticed what I would describe as companionable overmarking among the dogs at the park. Neither Otis nor our new foster Sandy routinely marks over one another, but they will both mark on the same ‘pee-mail’ hotspots. There are a few posts and rocks near the entrance to the park that just about EVERY dog hits. Otis and Sandy will spend long moments checking the scents and both leave their own, sometimes right on top of one another, sometimes adjacent. Sandy, my middle-of-the-road female, will even do a nifty squat-lift move to hit a vertical surface. When several dogs converge on these landmarks, it’s not uncommon to see a queue form as they wait to pee. Impatient dogs or careless dogs occasionally get peed on (it’s very easy for a small dog to wander right under Otis as he’s going), but it doesn’t seem to be an issue of direct competition at all, since they go in no particular order and immediately wander away. They don’t ‘repeat mark’ when a dog marks over their own pee.
I’ve seen a few behaviors that I think of as similar. For instance, dogs at the park will often poop very close to the same time, even if one dog has been at the park for five minutes, while the other arrived thirty minutes before. If one goes, frequently a second or third will as well, far apart but nearly at the same time. I’ve often wondered what that is about. Does one dog going suggest it to the second? Many dogs don’t like to be approached while pooping, so maybe it’s an effort to take advantage of the other dog’s distraction to seize a private moment of their own. Or maybe it’s an effort to create a latrine area, either to signal the presence of a group or simply to contain their feces. If Otis has already pooped, he won’t go again, but if he hasn’t, seeing one of his buddies go will often inspire him.
While out on the trail, Otis and Sandy will often adjacent-mark, usually on opposite sides of the path, but very seldom mark over one another. Same goes for most of their dog-friends. Most of the time, they don’t mark over one another. But once in a while, the dogs will smell something that they all just have to pee on. Sometimes after several dogs in the group have peed on it, Otis will approach, sniff, make gestures like he might pee, but end up giving it a pass and marking on a point a little further on. These group pees have always seemed to me like communication (I’m here! Me too, we’re all together!) rather than interdog rivalry, (I’ve always figured that Otis’ occasional restraint had more to do with wanting to leave a clear signal, not because he was respecting the social status of the other dogs) so I was very interested to hear that the phenomenon of overmarking has not generally been described as non-competitive. I know that Otis religiously checks his ‘pee-mail’ landmarks and does seem to notice when his particular friends have left a fresh mark, eagerly looking for them as he moves into the park.
Because I’ve seen pee-marking used as communication between dogs who cannot see one another, it seems logical to me that a dog, particularly a submissive dog, might always seek to mark with another dog, even if he or she didn’t feel particularly bonded with them, as a way to communicate to outsiders that he or she is not alone. Interesting topic!
All paws crossed for Willie, a successful surgery and a speedy recovery (although I know it’s likely to feel like it takes forever for him to get back to 100%)
The whole question of urine marking and over-marking is very intriguing to me. I have a high status large size male and I’m convinced that there’s a lot more going on than we comprehend. We joke about dogs writing pee-mail but I suspect there is more than a kernel of truth there. It makes sense to me to think that there is a lot more subtle communication going on; dogs after all are smell experts; what if they are able to make changes in the composition of their urine to express different information. I watch Ranger on our walks and sometimes after smelling one of the chatrooms (my name for those surfaces on which many dogs pee) for awhile he’ll walk on, sometimes he’ll add a couple of drops and other times a long stream. If peeing on things is a form of communication it makes sense that sometimes a lot of information needs to be added and other times not as much. I’ve also noticed that sometimes from my standing height I can smell his urine and other times not, if the composition is changing based on what he wants to communicate it makes sense that sometimes I could smell it and other times not. But enough of my total speculation. There are two examples that I think support the communication idea.
Ranger was the undisputed leader at the dog park but one day a dog came that wasn’t content to simply accept that. The dog marked over Ranger’s marking so Ranger marked another place and while the new dog was over marking that Ranger over marked the original markings. If you’ll pardon the expression they got into a real pissing contest with each trying to over mark the other all through the park. I noticed that as the contest went on there was less true over marking and more adjacent marking and that the amount of urine used began to vary widely. Eventually they got to a point where they both needed a drink (I thought the tanks had probably run dry) and after sharing the water bowl they both peed nearby without over marking or adjacent marking they were maybe five feet from each other and after that coexisted peacefully. It reminded me of a negotiation more than anything else.
One of Ranger’s friends is a high status female BC. When they are together Ranger will mark lower so that she can over mark and adjacent mark. It’s interesting to see him mark the bottom of a fence post and to see her trying to hike her leg and over mark that. If it were simply about status Ranger could easily mark well out of her reach but if there are more complicated communications at work then marking where she can also mark allows for different messages. I’m thinking that such marking could convey to other dogs that they are allies and that they will support one another should someone seek conflict with one of them. Or perhaps they’re just signalling the formation of a temporary pack relationship or an agreement of two high status canines to share territory or… It’s interesting to speculate. It seems likely to me that because humans are so very nose blind we have trouble thinking in terms of smell based communication.
I have five dogs, and only one goes to great lengths to “overmark”. My six year old male chihuahua, Poptart, will follow my BC mix, Cali, around and wait for her to pee (or poop, actually) and pee directly where she eliminated. I had to watch him closely for awhile, because he got in the habit of trying to pee on it while she was still peeing, which usually ended up with him peeing on her. Otherwise Poptart and the two other males in my house like to pee on the same things, but often do it at the same time, in a row. If only I had a second set of hands not holding five leashes, it would make a cute picture of three tiny males, all peeing in a row.
2 labs, both male, and they both over mark each other. It doesn’t seem to matter. It basically is who ever is last to go is the one that overmarks the other. Neither one are the dominant one in the house though. The Presa Canario is the dominant female. She prefers not to go anywhere the boys have gone. The boys go out back she goes out front.
I did notice though when taking them for walks, as sometimes I take one for a lap then the other. I don’t walk them together very often for a different reasons. One lab is all business when it comes to walks. Nose down, smelling every tree, every bush, everything and trying to do a quick mark as often as he can. I often have to stop and break him out of his obsessiveness with marking and walk in the road. Then the other lab is Mr. happy go lucky on walks challenging me to run or go faster, not to much sniffing but more just out enjoying the time together. However, both labs will stop and sniff where the other has gone but they won’t over mark each other on walks, only in the yard. The Presa which is the dominant one, on walks, well you couldn’t ask for a better walking companion, very polite and attentive to me, not really into marking may urinate once only on the entire walk and walks a steady pace right beside me. I really think she is quite confident in her dominance role where she doesn’t need to mark. She has never got into it or pinned either of the labs down or asserted her dominance it is just one of those unspoken things, however she is also older at 8 years now and was there before the labs were pups. Labs are 3 and 1 years old.
We had another lab before the presa and he was the dominant dog, she tried to challenge him a few times but well he was freak lab. He was seriously 148lb lab and was not fat in any way, he was just that big. The vet had no kennels his size. I remember coming home one day to find these chunky soup cans on the floor and just thought he got into the garbage. Until one day I seen him walk over and grab a soup can sideways and bite down until the top popped off and he proceeded to eat. Anyway when he passed away she became the dominant dog.
I picked it up last night on your recommendation. Hope to find time to start reading very soon!
So interesting! I’ve often wondered about this! My dog, Molly, is a terrier mix from the shelter. She’s a pretty highstrung nervous little dog..once she knows you, she loves you, but it takes a while. Her best friend is Ginger – another terrier mix. Ginger is a much more confident/laid back dog. Molly and Ginger have play dates 2-3x per week and they often have “sleep overs”, so they’re pretty close. Molly always always over marks Ginger’s pee spots. As far as I can tell, she doesn’t do it with other dogs. But Molly is very specific about waiting for Ginger to pee and then going to that exact spot. As far as I can tell, Ginger does not pay the slightest bit of attention to where she pees. I have no idea what that means…but it’s interesting! Would love to see more research on this topic!
Jo Cook says
My two females dog have the proverbial pissing contest. They overmark one another all the time. I’m not sure what it means, but sometimes they will stand around and wait for the other one to pee so the one waiting can pee on the other one’s pee. There is a status issue with these two, but I’m not convinced the overmark relates, just interesting.
I have two Shiba Inu and a foster Shiba Inu mix. My male Shiba, who is a deaf, blind, docile-for-a-Shiba senior, always marks over my younger, more assertive female Shiba. My male seems to really care about my female and she cares about him. I always thought that my male’s overmarking of my female was a sign of affection and protection. He never overmarks my foster mix, who he really doesn’t like at all and is somewhat afraid of.
I was just thinking about overmarking again this weekend, what a happy coincidence! We had friends visit with a new dog (and one my dogs already know), so there were five dogs marking and overmarking in the yard…a lot.
I have three, all adults: one male and two female. The females, who generally get along now but haven’t always, seem to care very much about overmarking. When they’re out together, they’ll crowd up behind each other to be in position to overmark, and even when they go out separately, they’ll often go straight to where the other dog went to overmark. The male will often come along after all the jockeying is over and add his mark on top, but not always.
This weekend, with the new dog (male), it was a veritable orgy of marking from all of them. My male followed new guy around to overmark nonstop at first, and new guy occasionally went back and over-overmarked. The females did a good amount of overmarking as well, but weren’t nearly as focused on it as they are with one another.
I don’t really have any conclusions: it seems to go along more with relationships that are being negotiated rather than ones that are more comfortable or less important. My male was head over heels in love with new guy, and the females liked him, but less than they like some other dogs. New guy was overwhelmed at first, but came around to liking them all. My two females have had tension between them, sometimes a lot, sometimes a little, but always at some level even though they like each other enough to play and spend time together by choice.
And I’m thinking good thoughts for Willie’s recovery. We did two ACL repairs on our border collie mix about seven years ago–the recovery period was challenging, but entirely worth it. She’s 12 now, and still running around on those knees!
I do find over marking interesting and am definitely gout to check out your book. My male over marks my female all the time, to the point that I have started allowing Delta to go out and pee first so Doc will hurry up and pee. lol Doc still squats sometimes on flat surfaces but I cant recall my female ever over marking. She may have once at the dog park before. I would say both my dogs have equal dominance over resources in the house. Both would equally take a bone away from the other, etc. Delta used to get everything when Doc was a pup but now that he is bigger, he holds his own. Both pick on each other equally also in play fights. They never fight and they really love each other. Their favorite past time is snuggling on the floor in the sun. i have some rePly great pictures of it. Lol
When I had 3 dogs, in order by age and totem pole, the oldest and most “dominant” went first and then the other two went in order behind. On occasion my male, the middle dog, would pee on my oldest female while she was going.
I am glad you are talking about this topic because I have always wondered if the over marking was by the more dominant why were mine backwards. I always figured the dominant one got to choose the spot and the others followed.
Thanks so much for your blog and the chance to weigh in.
I have 2 female and 1 male Border terriers and a boarding kennel. The males has almost always overmarked everyone possible. I have had to teach him a wait so he does not pee on the girls. The 2 year old female started over marking at about the same time she began to bully th 14 year old female last year. The old girl will sometimes overmark now but the younger will specifically search out her grandmother’s pee or wait behind her to overmark more often than not. Some days they do go side by side. It is very interesting to watch. I always go out with them to prevent bullying at this point.
Good luck to Willie and a speedy recovery, having one of your dogs undergo a procedure no matter how routine can always be nerve-racking!
In my pack (7 dogs) I have a couple males who are about mid level in pack order and they take turns urinating over each other, one will do what you indicate Lassie is doing, wait for my older male BC to urinate and then he will cover it. I really felt like it was a pissing contest for lack of a better term between them but maybe that is not entirely true. When thinking about my parents dogs, they had 3 in the house, and one was an adult female pit bull, she marked over everyone, if on walks or in her yard and she even lifted her leg to urinate. We often joked she was a male dog trapped in a female body. I can definitely see that it may not always indicate pecking order and it is really interesting to me that Dr Lisberg saw no females in her reasearch that over-marked. I have worked with dogs for over 10 years and seen more then a couple who were avid over-markers although I will say in my house hold it is always the males who do this. : ) Very interesting thoughts and it has me intrigued enough to go look at Mr Bradshaws book. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, always enjoy reading your blog.
I have one dog, german shepherd mix, female. She marks a LOT and Sniffs a Lot on our neighborhood walks, even lifts her leg to reach higher. She usu. sniffs the spot first then marks, I don’t know if she overmarks or adjacent marks, since I just have the one dog. She won’t mark when we go walking in a new place (but will sniff a lot), just marks on our usual routes.
I think she is an alpha-wannabe, likes to control things around her, doesn’t like suprises, slow to warm-up, a bit nervous. She resource guards me, so I don’t take her to the dog park and I am leary of getting another dog. She seems to do fine at the kennel when I am not there and she goes to doggy day care for a few hours of the day, they have not had any issues with her and other dogs. She will bark at me when I hug friends or visitors. I am not sure what this says about her in the ‘status’ department
Susan G. says
I hope all goes well with the surgery, and the recovery is as good as possible. Keeping positive thoughts is all we can do. Oscar had a small mast cell tumor removed on May 5, and I have had the feeling of “What did I do to him?!” often. The tumor was small and cancerous at the lowest possible level, but the incision is large and the armpit area is requiring slow recovery for which I was not prepared. I know you have your sling, but I want to give props for Comfy Cone while it is slightly on-topic. It is a wonderful product whose time was long overdue.
Anyway, Oscar is OBSESSED with overmarking. He will go out of his way to do this and even double-checks his own marks at times. In his case, I think it is a status thing…in his mind. He is a middle-ranking dog who thinks/wishes he is higher (your term “social climber” could not be more perfect). It is interesting to think about what this all means, and, as Kat noted, there seems to be a lot more to marking than I tend to give credit.
My lab mix, Izzy, is very concerned about where strange dogs have peed. She will spend lots of time sniffing, and will mark nearby or over top. She has never shown any interest in where my lab, Copper, pees or where her two BFFs dogs next door pee.
Copper will always pee over where Izzy pees, to the point of almost getting peed on. He shows much less interest in where other dogs have peed, usually just a quick sniff then he’ll add his mark to the nearest convenient vertical surface.
Copper & Izzy are good friends. They play together and enjoy each other’s company. When push comes to shove, I’d say Izzy is “dominant” for most resources with one exception. Copper will assert himself to get access to me. He prefers to grovel obsequiously before Izzy for anything else, like toys, and it is effective for him. I don’t allow the dogs to squabble or anything, and they don’t at this point in their lives. But, it is apparent that having access to Mom is a lot more significant for Copper than it is for Izzy.
First off, fingers crossed for Willie’s recovery.
I have a male pit bull and a female whatzit (Lab/terrier/maybe chow cross?). Both are 1 1/2 years old and were adopted together. Only the male displays any marking behavior. My female is very secure in her position as The Princess and has never marked anywhere. My male also displays a lot of appeasement gestures: he can’t handle his licker. He licks EVERYONE and will even jump up to try and lick their faces. If he can’t lick you, he’ll lick the air.
I’m the only person he doesn’t overlick. He knows he’s not going to get attention from me if he does it, so it’s much less than with other people. Of course, trying to get other people to ignore him and turn their back on him so he CAN’T lick them is near useless. *sigh*
I guess, looking at both behaviors, Joker (my male) is trying to make some sort of status gesture even though we have no issues in our home. It’s obvious (to me) that he’s insecure in himself, hence the licking and over marking.
First of all, thinking of you and Willie while he’s in surgery. I hope all goes well and I wish him a speedy recovery.
My dog, Dahlia, both overmarks and adjacent marks. But I’ve yet to figure out why she does one over the other. Here’s the thing about her though: she lifts her leg to mark on trees. She’s getting pretty good at actually aiming to get the pee onto the tree.
Oh, on a related note, I have a neighbor friend with two labs and the female, who I would generally consider to be the lower status dog, always overmarks where the male has peed. The two dogs are best buddies and share a bed.
sue kinchin says
Over many years of owning many combinations of dogs I would say that the times I have noticed my dogs over-peeing is when the group feels under threat for some reason…….. seems to be a bonding behaviour. Have noticed it too when slightly anxious dogs are cautiously getting to know, again in this situation it seems to be a bonding behaviour.
Kathy Fischer says
We have 3 Aussies, and a visiting hound mix dog. All 3 of our Aussies participate in a peeing ritual every night. The visiting dog has joined in. First our 1.5 y.o. female Page pees, and our oldest female Taz waits behind her. As soon as Page is done, then Taz will pee on the same spot. Then Gus, our next to oldest male will walk over and pee on the spot. Then our guest, will go over and pee on the spot as well. Our guest does this no matter if he has already peed or not.
One thing I’ve noticed about this is that the order follows the order of confidence/submission of the dogs personalities. Page, who ALWAYS pees first is our most confident-independent, could care less what the others are doing type dog. Taz is next and is also a very confident-independent, could care less about the other dogs type dog. But she is 14 years old now, and really showing her age. Before Page, the others would pee over her pee, but now with Page, Taz has moved to 2nd place. Gus is a very unsure, always looking for approval, submissive type male, and our guest acts like he is very submissive as well.
I heard/read someplace that the underlings will pee over a higher ranking dog to cover their scent as a sign of respect. This order does support that idea.
My female lab foxhound mix overmarks quite a bit. She particularly likes overmarking intact males urine..and has infact had her head peed on more than a few times…lol. She’s an anxious dog, triggered by other anxious dogs but overall pretty social. The most significant marking she’s done was when she literally backed up to a tree and lifted her hind end completely off the ground to overmark her intact male rottie friend’s mark…it was quite impressive!
I’ve always though that her purposeful marking (like described above) as opposed to her anxiety based marking (frequent and anywhere) was sort of an “I’m with him” kind of behaviour.
A little over a year ago I had four dogs, two neutered male greyhounds one 12 the other 10, a 7 year old spayed female greyhound and a 3-4 year old spayed female beagle.
My 12 year old always waited for the others to urinate and then proceed to urinate on top of everyone’s urine.
In the house my 7 year old would always be the one to win the bed but my 10 year old and beagle were the first two to win treats.
I had a trainer that uses aversive mechanisms more than I’m comfortable with, come to my home and he asked me who the dominant dog was and I told him the scenario. He didn’t have much of a response and I just decided he was to archaic and didn’t employ his training methods. But I did find it interesting, what the deal with pack order was. But then again, does it really matter? Most of the time my dogs always sorted themselves out and didn’t need any human interference.
Tina E says
My male rottie will overmark, sniffing & remarking 2 and 3 times…usually on walks. He is not “dominant”, nor overly “submissive”, just middle of the road. On occasion, he will wait until my female Cane Corso finishes and then mark her spot. She has not shown any inclination of overmarking over anyone’s spot. Both are S/N…wonder if that has any part in this play? Good luck Willie 🙂
Keeping all paws crossed that Willie has a successful surgery and a speedy recovery. He looks so healthy and handsome, it must make it tougher to accept. I already discussed this in the prior post, but I’ll add my observations with some new data.
Jack is my confident, outgoing male, who is not at all status-seeking. I call him “the mayor.” He feels his job is to make all and sundry comfortable. The dog who hates to be petted climbs right up on strangers’ knees to lick faces and get stroked, in what seems to be a genuine effort to make the people happy. He is the one who will sit on the laps of house-guests (just lie there, as if keeping an eye on them), break up squabbles between my female Corgi and my cat, and at the dog park will run over to check it out if another dog yips. Other dogs frequently bow before him and lick the corners of his lips, or go down and show belly; yet he is most likely to greet a strange dog with his ears slightly back, his body neutral, making mild appeasement gestures. Again, it seems more like a confident dog “playing” at being submissive to put others at east, based on follow-up contacts where he in fact tends to take charge.
He lifts his leg at every spot where another dog peed, sometimes after a long, thoughtful sniff. He never overmarks where my female goes.
My much more submissive female frequently sticks her head under Jack while he’s peeing and then pees right where he did. She will also scootch her butt up to touch his so they can poop at the same time. Jack totally ignores this behavior, as far as I can tell. If Jack overmarks where another dog went, Maddie will sometimes mark again on top of it, but I have almost never seen her overmark where any other dog went on her own. If she is out on a car trip by herself, she is very unlikely to even relieve herself in a strange place at all. I think that maybe some instinct tells less-confident dogs that peeing alone in a strange place is a huge flag signifying there is a new dog in town and it’s all alone. I think peeing where Jack pees is her way of saying “We are together, you and I!” Confidence in numbers, and a sign to all other dogs that this is a pack, not a low-ranking solitary individual.
Last night at 10:30 my husband took our dogs out for a last pee, and up trots a collared but leashless Pomeranian, with no humans in sight. When calling numbers on the tag proved fruitless, we figured there was nothing for it but to put Mr. Pom up for the night. We dragged out an ex-pen, but he’s not crate-trained and he barked and barked and BARKED for hours. Exhausted, we gave up and my husband let him out around 3am and slept on the couch, Bossy Mr. Intact Pom next to him. We got up to find (not surprisingly) that Mr. Pom had marked multiple corners of the house, and the dog bowls. Nothing like coming in and declaring yourself in charge.
My dogs mostly ignored him. When we took the whole gang out this morning to potty, Mr. Pom was very sure to mark over where Maddie peed each and every time she peed (or pooped), and then kick the ground with his hind legs the way some males will do. This seemed more like the status-seeking overmarking that is more commonly noted. He did not seem to overmark where Jack went, which I found interesting. And Jack, who usually likes dogs, completely acted like he did not exist. Not sure if it was the incessant barking that turned him off, or if he was just casually brushing off the little guy’s cock-of-the-rock routine and acting like the cool kids at school who maintain status by completely ignoring those that are not seen as being part of the in-crowd.
Maddie, on the other hand, looked fairly miserable at the prospect of having Mr. Take-Charge move in. In fact, she came upstairs and tucked herself into a corner in the hallway at bedtime instead of taking her usual spot on the couch. Jack came up too (they both usually sleep downstairs) but took a spot in the doorway near the top of the stairs. Keeping an eye on the house? Not really sure how to interpret that.
Needless to say, the little guy is now at the shelter; a non-crate trained stray who decides to take ownership of the house was not making my animals happy at all. The cat was mortified.
All the best with Willie’s surgery and hope he comes through with flying colours. I have just dropped my little BC off at the ortho specialist this morning for xrays and ultrasound because she to has been lame and it sounds exceedingly similar to Willie’s. Front end lameness which comes and goes and is quite possibly biceps tendonitis.
I also struggled with the decision given for the most part she is fine and you wouldn’t know.
Hope he is on the way to recovery soon.
Heather Staas says
I’ve got a dog daycare center.. great place to watch over marking behavior! Ten years of watching it and I still don’t think it can be narrowed down to any one meaning. I can think of dog relationships that seem to fit every one of the hypothesized reasons for over marking, and I can think of a dozen different types/ ages/ supposed social status dogs that do it differently from the next. I’ve seen it *appear* to be everything from sexual interest, to bonding, to territorial displays and gaurding, appeasement, greeting…. I think like SO many things when it comes to interpreting behavior, context and relationship matter. The book sounds great by the way, I’m looking forward to picking it up.
My 1 year old lab is WAY more dominant then my 5 year old lab. However, the older lab pees after/on top of the younger one every single time.
I have two male Rat Terriers, and the dominant one (Rupert) marks everything in sight. Even when there is no pee coming out anymore, he still goes through the motions. The Subordinate one (Roger) ALWAYS wants to overmark on Ruperts spots. In fact, on walks Rupert will pee, then we will go to move along and Roger will freeze and refuse to continue until I let him pee there too. It’s funny too since his face clearly says “but I want to pee there too!”
I always assumed that since Roger was the more skittish/subordinate/pampered dog and Rupert was an unclaimed stray who is tough and has the “street smarts” that Roger just thought it was a good idea on Ruperts part to pee there so he might as well too. Not to cover up the scent, but just to add to it since they are basically a single unit.
Maggi – “…sort of an
Fascinating topic, thanks for bringing it up!
I have 2 male hound mix rescues: a black & tan and a tri-color. Our 2nd dog, the tri-color, literally waits for his brother to pee before he’ll go. Then he will find the exact spot and overmark. He can be sniffing around the other corner of the yard and you can tell when he catches the scent of his brother’s urine. He’s amazingly good at finding it if he isn’t standing right there waiting! The over-marker is the more submissive dog, although over the years they have evened out. It seemed as though the black & tan’s dominant behavior and the tri-color’s submissive behaviors would increase after we boarded them at a kennel, so we’ve stopped that. But that’s another topic all together… 🙂
Very interesting subject. I have a 15 month old female border collie, and we share our yard with two pitbulls from a neighbor. My bc would sniff everywhere other dog has marked yet look for a place that has no scent to pee. I have observed that in my yard. Since it can be difficult to always find a pee free place, I had to teach her to do it on command, or else it would take hours.
First and foremost, wishing Willie a speedy recovery – he’s a beautiful dog that deserves to romp, play and herd sheep.
While I only have one dog – Daisy Mae (my female Brittany) will “overmark” during our walks. She seems to pee right on top of or near another dogs pee. She is in no way a dominant dog. As a matter of fact, when she sees another dog approaching us head on – she’ll lay down in the middle of the street. I have to coax her to move on.
Interestingly enough – most of the time Daisy and her buddy (female BC mix) will share bones/toys and everything. I would say that the BC is top dog in MOST instances, i.e. alwyas goes through doors first, bumps Daisy out of the way to get to water, etc.
However, when riding in the car – it is CLEAR that Daisy is in control when her buddy is riding with her as she manages to take the entire back seat, practically pushing Bella into a small corner of the seat.
On another occassion one I thought Daisy was sleeping so I told the BC it was okay to get the empty Kong and Daisy didn’t like it and snapped, which surprised us all.
Marcy G. says
My previous pack would watch Gita (the oldest female) go pee, then they all would mark over hers. I thought it was because she ‘told’ them where to go. My current pack does the same thing, but when I read Marianna’s comment, it really is in order of age. Missy is the oldest now and she pees and the boys pee over her in order of age.
I have a female who will over mark my other female and male’s pee. She will also over mark my pee if we are wilderness hiking or camping. She waits for us to finish so she can over mark our urine, she never misses a chance;)
The comments on last week’s post got me thinking, too. I noticed that my Erik also seems to wait for our older and bigger dog, Kivi to go. We assumed that he was trying to overmark, but he doesn’t quite do it. He gets his nose right on the spot Kivi went and then wees where he stands, so it ends up about 40cm from where Kivi went.
So, the only time I’ve ever seen him go over another dog’s wee is in his own yard, and then it’s not every time. When he’s out and about he pays a great deal of attention to where other dogs are going, but never goes beside or the usual 40cm distance from his nose. He just sniffs and moves on. He is a bit of an alpha wannabe, but Kivi is like the Gandhi of dogs and doesn’t pay much attention to status. Erik is, however, a very “pack oriented” kind of dog. He gets very anxious when his pack is split up and cannot relax until it’s all back together again. He doesn’t seem to have favourites, he just wants me and my partner and our other dog to all be with him as much as possible. I wonder if this is why he marks with Kivi? The suggestion sure got me thinking!
Heidi Meinzer says
Speedy recovery, Will!
Great topic! Sophie, my rescued GSD mix, is three and spayed. Our other dog Boomer is a one-year old black lab (English) and is not fixed yet, but is slated to be neutered soon.
Sophie throws off mixed signals all the time. She lacks confidence quite a bit (in fact, we just had our first Confidence Building group class lesson last night!). She can be obsequious one minute, and very snarky the next. For instance, with Boomer (and the old Golden, Raoul, we had before him), she will simultanously growl at him if he gets on the bed with her while licking his gums.
Boomer is the typical lab. Laid back, happy go lucky, could care less about all the drama. As a younger pup, he would avoid Sophie and her snarkiness. As he gets older, he tends to care much less about it. In fact, not too long ago, she snarked in an effort to keep him off the couch. He just jumped up into a little corner anyway, and slowly stretched out to the point that Sophie gave up and jumped down!
Sophie and Boomer overmark each other’s urine all the time. I can’t recall exactly when it started, but I think Sophie started doing it first. Often, one will pee, the other will overmark, and the first one will come back and overmark the overmark. More often than not now, it is Boomer who will overmark that second time.
Sophie doesn’t seem to be a big marker when she’s out and about. She’ll sniff a lot, but she won’t necessarily overmark on walks. As Boomer gets older, he marks a lot no matter where we are. He loves the dog park, and he marks a ton there, particularly when we first get to the dog park. (With Sophie’s confidence and reactivity issues, we skip the dog park with her.)
By the way, it is not just overmarking and not just urine. Boomer has started to lick Sophie’s urine (yuck!), and Boomer and Sophie have been notorious poo eaters (double yuck!). For some reason, it seems they both prefer Sophie’s poo. We pick up poo religiously, but if ever there is a stray pile, it always seems to be Boomer’s. Never any Sophie leftover poo (triple yuck!).
FYI on our dogs before Boomer and Sophie. Xhufi was my rescued female Albanian mutt (spayed at 4 months). She was very funny and very food motivated, but didn’t really care much else about anything other than food. She would mark when we were out on walks, but not too much. Raoul, our gorgeous and confident Golden, was neutered at a little over a year. I don’t recall him marking very much either. And I don’t recall them overmarking each other’s urine particularly. If status seeking means anything, they had things worked out well. Raoul patiently let Xhufi get any food items first, but Raoul got everything else. If Xhufi played with a toy, Raoul knew she would get bored with it after five seconds, and he would ultimately get it anyway. The excitement of tennis balls would throw Raoul into guardy behavior every once in a while.
Best of thoughts and wishes to you and Will!
We call it “trumping”. My 10 year old, female BC/ACD mix Polly always “trumps” the 6 year old ACD Henna. Our male Tristan (litter mate to Polly) sometimes, but rarely “trumps” them all. He’s like your Tulip. The others would never try to take a bone from him.
I remember reading somewhere (and don’t remember the source, sorry) that the reason for “trumping” was a protective measure for the group. Covering up the sent of lesser beings with the strongest member’s scent to keep potential threats away.
Sending healthy thoughts for Willie!
PS Loved your talk at ClickerExpo! Thank you for signing books for me.
Susan Mann says
Oh goody, I’ve been waiting for you to address this since that post a week or so ago! Arie overmarks Kyp! (pretty sure its overmarking, not just adjacent, but I’ll keep my eyes open and write back if I’m wrong) but not Brodie. Arie is almost 4, intact female, Kyp! is 12+ yrs old, also female, but spayed, and Brodie, is a12.5 year old neutered male. Arie is sweet and soft, and tries pretty hard to avoid conflict, especially in the household, having grown up around Brodie’s quirks and “issues” though she can get a bit snappy if a dog tries to interact when ringside at agility, where she exudes a lot more confidence. Kyp! is a pretty independent character, especially outside where she spends most of her time exploring and hunting (dinner last night was some baby bunnies, unfortunately!) and just wandering, in comparison to the BCs who pretty want my attention, and preferably my throwing arm 😉 though of course they’re willing to spend time exploring as well. Brodie loves to mark everything, typical boy, and I have seen him overmark in the past, but not routinely or recently that I can recall.
In a similar vein- I had a foster BC for a while who really liked to poop up high! I took the dogs to some trails on a pretty routine basis, and he would generally try to go on a rock or tree stump, something off the ground. Brodie followed suit for a while, but then returned to normal (for him) when the dog left.
Great discussion, I’m loving it. Maybe over marking is like smiling, in that it can be done in a variety of circumstances as some of you have suggested. More on this later this week. And thanks for your comments about Willie. I pick him up this afternoon, but we do know that the surgeon found lots more damage than expected, and the chance for a full recovery is small to none. But maybe….
Best wishes for Willie’s surgery and speedy healing! I have 2 dogs, a 4 year old male and a 9 year old female, both lab mixes. The male overmarks the female a lot. He waits for her to pee and then steps in and pees in the exact same spot, squatting like a female. She never overmarks where he peees.
The male is unquestionably the follower. The female is brazen and unafraid, the male is timid and cautious. He adores the female and follows her lead in everything. She can take anything from him at any time and he often waits for her to go outside or to come inside. Interestingly, once he reached age 3 or so, he did start to try to shoulder in front when I was petting the female. She ignores him or gives me the ‘long suffering’/’how rude of him’ look. That is the only situation in which I’ve ever seen him try to assert himself.
I’ve always assumed that the overmarking was his way of announcing that he was with her, which makes him much braver. She taught him to race, barking down to the fence in the backyard when people walked by, and a couple times he’s started running down and happened to glance behind and see that she wasn’t there. He stopped barking and came back to the house. He is only brave if he has ‘back up’. I assumed his peeing was in the same spirit – letting everyone know he was with the tough girl.
So sorry for the discouraging news about the surgery and holding on to that small hope for a full recovery!
Despite looking for signs, I can’t tell which of my dogs is more dominant, and since they get along, I kind of think it doesn’t matter.
My lower energy female BC mix marks everyone’s pee except that of my higher energy male Aussie mix. The higher energy male does not bother marking at all.
I’ve always kind of just thought that the first dog who pees is the one who left a “status” on “facebook,” and all the other dogs are “commenting.” Some dogs are just more interested in interacting that way than others.
So sorry to hear about Willie – but he will have the best possible chance with you, I know.
On the pee front: Sophy, my papillon is the elder of my two, and by far the more self confident. Poppy (toy poodle) is innately rather shy, although she has made steady progress and with careful socialising and encouragement is still improving. We have a couple of acres of grounds we share with other residents of our complex, several of whom have dogs. Out in the grounds, Poppy is often the first to pee, sometimes because she needs to, sometimes because she has found the scent of one of the other dogs we know well. Sophy will then sometimes overmark, but often she has found a spot for herself already. Out on walks marking is much more obvious, and it is nearly always Sophy who marks first, followed by Poppy. Poppy will follow Sophy’s lead when deciding whether to approach a human or a dog, too (although today she very bravely went and sniffed a cow all by herself – and then came away when called – and got lavishly praised for not getting over excited and barking as she used to!) So yes, I think there are lots of factors at play, and for my dogs the “Me, too!” seems to be particularly important.
I have an adult Brittany who seems very polite with other dogs (by that I mean that he exhibits very obvious body language signals). I don’t see him as seeking social status over the other dogs we meet in the dog park.
He definitely overmarks on neighborhood pee mail spots. And he definitely overmarks other dogs in the park if he happens to notice anyone peeing nearby.
My thoughts & prayers are with you & your family. It’s been a rough patch for you – please know that you have hundreds of wellwishers who read but never post.
God holds you in his hands
My 10 year old male lab has control of all the resources as far as my 3 year old female border collie is concerned. If he has a toy or food in front of him, she will not go within two feet of it. If she is playing fetch and he decides to join in, she will almost always let him get the toy, even though she is much faster and fully capable of beating him to it every time. If he wants to lay on her bed, she’ll give it up to him, no contest.
Even with other dogs, she makes no attempt to control the resources. I would not describe her as submissive though. She just has no trouble sharing. She also has no trouble telling other dogs off when they’re being rude (she will not tolerate a face to face greeting with a strange dog, especially a younger dog).
She always over marks my male dog’s pee…even if it means lifting a leg and peeing at an odd angle for a female (she’s become quite talented at that). She does it at home, while we’re out on walks, and while out running in a field. If she sees Bear pee, she’ll come running from a long way off just to pee over the top of where he peed, sometimes even before he’s finished. I have no explanation for it. It doesn’t appear to be a dominance thing in her case and Bear doesn’t seem to take offense to it at all.
My female cattledog x is OBSESSED with peeing. She lifts her leg very high to mark and is always trying to hike herself up as high as possible (to the point of toppling over) to pee. When walking with another dog (particularly another female) she will wait and pee right on top of there pee (and then sometimes kick up dirt a bit with her back paws)…to the point where she has actually peed on other dogs tails.
I don’t have a clue why she does this but in terms of personality, she is an insecure dog whose first instinct is to greet dogs on the offensive (tail up..body tense..ready to pin them).
Sorry to hear about Willie’s surgery prognosis… I am sure whatever limitations he has on activity you will be creative in finding ways to keep him engaged and active
Ugh, so sorry to hear about Willie! I hope he is at least able to achieve functional soundness, if not complete normal function.
This peeing conversation has me thinking more than normal about “dominance” and “status-seeking.”
It seems to me that my own dogs (who are both well-socialized) are very self-aware and what we read as “dominance” or “submission” is actually a reflection of their own assessments of themselves.
Jack is bossy, but he has excellent judgement. He reads both people and dogs perfectly. He’s the kind that knows if you are mad or upset even if you don’t say anything, who runs over if you say “ouch.”
He is usually good at reading other dogs. He won’t go within a country mile of the rare dogs that truly give off “Stay away, or I’ll bite” vibes. He WILL approach dogs who are just blustering or what is sometimes called “fear-aggressive” because he is confident in his own ability to smooth things over. So if a dog is barking and/or growling at us, I actually trust Jack more than myself to determine if the dogs is safe to approach. Once we met a very unstable dog who gave all signs of wanting to say high and then snapped seemingly out of nowhere. Jack made a “What the heck” face and just wandered off as if to say “You are not worth my time.”
Maddie is more “submissive” but she is my happy airhead and her judgement is not all that great. How much of a behavior that we read as “submissive” is true submission and how much is lack of confidence in the ability to win? Is what we call submission truly “submitting” or is it more a dog who determines someone else’s judgement is more likely to be correct? Jack is more likely to argue with me than Maddie will, but to be honest there are occasions when Jack’s original decision was probably smarter than mine. And I think he knows that.
If Maddie gives up the chase for a tennis ball when other dogs are charging for it, is it because she thinks they are the boss or is it because she doesn’t like to be trampled? If she won’t go for a piece of dropped food if another dog also sees it, is it because she “knows her place” in the order or because she’s a dog who gets truly alarmed if another dog growls or snaps?
Like Pip, she has learned to be sneaky to get what she wants. She will roll on her back and make happy harfy noises as if she wants to play to distract Jack away from a toy she wants. She’ll play bow on the floor to entice Jack to jump off the couch if she wants his spot; as soon as he hops down to play, she shoots him a “Hah, got you!” look and triumphantly jumps up. If Jack wants a toy, he’ll walk right up to her and grab it. And if he wants a spot on the couch, I have had him literally step over the top of her, lay down on me and then snark at her to get her to move (I allowed this once as an experiment and don’t let this behavior continue for the sake of safety!).
In the end, BOTH are trying to get what they want, just in different ways. But when push comes to shove, Jack trusts his own judgement, and Maddie has decided life is easier if she trusts the judgement of others (people and dogs). So for instance she pees where Jack pees because she figures he must have found a nice, safe, sensible spot to pee in.
I have found my dogs’ behavior makes more sense when I think about leadership vs following in humans (where people often lead not because they “Want to be boss” but because they have a history of good judgement which makes others tend to follow them) and less in terms of the inaccurate “forced dominance” wolf-model we’ve been encouraged to believe.
I have 3 Border Collies, 1 male and 2 females, and they all adjacent mark each other every chance they get. I’ve thought it was about declaring their relationship as a pack. My male overmarks where the neighbor’s dogs pee in our front yard. The girls ignore them.
We have 4 females that all over mark. It’s actually quite amusing – on our walks in the woods there will be times where there is a single file line, everyone waiting to get in their mark. We used to think it was status related but over time there doesn’t seem to be an order to who marks on who, except one girl who consistently wants to be last in line to get hers on top.
We’re thinking of Willie and hoping everything is going well.
I’ve got two separate overmarking stories involving a pair of dogs who weren’t housemates, but as they belonged to my sister and I, were not at all strangers.
The first incident occurred the first time they met at my parents’ house. My sister and her female rottie mix arrived first. Hero was a very good girl and a very confident girl, but the medicine she was on for her seizures made her housetraining a little erratic. When we – me, my husband, and our greyhound – came in the door, she was excited and peed on the carpet. My greyhound – who normally had impeccable indoor manners but had never been to my parents’ house before – immediately peed on top of the spot Hero had made. At the time, the expression on his face made us immediately decide that he was relieved to know that quickly the rules of this new place, but at this remove I’m just not sure what was going on.
And whenever Hero came to stay with us, she and Larson made a point of overmarking each other when we took them into the backyard. Sometime Hero would wait for Larson to pee and overmark, sometimes he’d wait for her and do the same.
Overall, they had what I would describe as a comfortable sibling relationship. They would constantly try to borrow each other’s toys/bones/beds/etc. (we made a point of removing the highest-value things so there was never anything they’d likely argue about), and Hero would always try to get involved if someone was patting Larson (Larson was confident but not particularly motivated, and would almost visibly shrug and wander off).
I have a rather large ‘pack’ – all related. Mix of sexes and altered/non altered. I do have one girl who will wait and watch to pee over other girls pee. However, she never peed over her mother’s pee. This girl is ‘bossy’, lots of talk but little action. She is now my oldest girl. I have other girls that mark over other pee – does not seem to any rhyme or reason. My boys just pee like boys – everywhere.
What I really want to know is why my male peed ON one of my girls! She was laying in the grass chewing on a bone. He walked over, looked at her, lifted his leg and peed on her! What was he thinking?!
Paws all crossed for Mr. Willie, for a smooth and speedy recovery. He seems to have an excellent nurse (: and hope is the best medicine.
With my vast experience of two whole dogs in my lifetime (where have I been all my life?!) this overmarking conversation is interesting. My first Golden, Spencer was The Perfect Dog: well-socialized and loved by his birth family, easy-going and mellow (and I do mean mellow) he had virtually no “warts” in his personality (except an inexorable fear of dump trucks). He never met another dog or human he didn’t like, and seemed to have an instinct about how to approach, encourage or settle another dog. (Several trainers throughout his short life noted that he was “remarkable” in this way–not just a Mom’s perspective). He rarely, if ever over marked. He loved to check peemail, but never seemed to need to send a reply. My current Golden, Rex has been with us for about a year, coming at age 2 1/2 from rescue. While not a horrible past he led a life of limited experiences and clearly wasn’t socialized well with other dogs. We have worked very hard on his insecurities and leash reactiveness(with good success, yay)and gain confidence. Rex goes out of his way to over mark, whether coming upon evidence of the last dog present by accident, or watching another dog pee and then going directly to leave his own mail. So…is this significant? Reading the discussion I find it fascinating! Thank you for all the good work you do.
Amy Martin says
“But now I
I haven’t read all of the replies yet, but I’ve always felt that the general theories about dogs marking over one another, as well as other behaviors, seem to be rooted in anthropomorphism. The idea of middle dogs jockeying for position – like office managers – or certain dogs not doing so because they are ‘confident’ … all of this has always felt like we’re trying a bit too hard to apply human dynamics to dogs. I think, as people, we like to believe in the notion of confidence and that confident people simply go around acting as they do without worrying about what others are doing, etc. I think it somehow makes us feel good to apply this notion to our dogs – viewing certain dogs as amazingly confident, benevolent creatures that are reacting in perfect fashion to everyone around them in all situations. In reality, I would say there are relatively few people that are supremely confident, and I suspect that this is likely the case with dogs as well. Much of it may have to do with certain dogs having shorter/longer fuses, lower/higher tolerance levels, among other factors. Or, maybe not. We just simply don’t know a lot about why dogs behave the way they do – only that they “do”. But, in any case, it’s still very interesting to read about, and I really enjoy the discussion.
Oh Trisha. I am so sorry. I hope Willie defies all the odds!
My 3-year old dog, Tawny, will urine mark over 8-year old dog, Callie. Tawny will stand near Callie’s tail and sniff. As soon as Callie pees and moves away, Tawny will pee over Callie’s urine. Out of 4 dogs, Tawny is the only dog who does this behavior. All the dogs are rescues and Tawny is the shyest and most fearful, very submissive.
My mixed (Gs?) breed female, Martha, always overpeed on my Golden retriever (Sally)’s pee. I just assumed it was like a bulletin board. “Sally was here.” “…and Martha”. I suppose Sally was dominant in the sense that she was two years old when we got Martha as a puppy and it never crossed Martha’s mind that Sally wasn’t in charge – they only disagreed with each other once, when I had brought in a “dog trainer” to deal with Martha’s aggression towards strange dogs and she gave treats to one but not the other – but I never thought of it as submissive, just joining in. Sally actually housetrained Martha, so I think it may have been habit as well. I walk my current female dog with a male dog of the same age (well, until he started suddenly fainting last week, for reasons apparently inexplicable to the vets who’ve tested him up the ying yang.) Neither of them are particularly assertive dogs, and they never overmark. They pee quite independently of each other and obviously just when they need to go, not as a marking ritual – they’re too busy playing to take the time. Maybe because they’re only just two years old?
Back in the days when dogs were allowed to wander loose in the suburbs, my mother reported that our by then quite elderly female shepherd mix had begun to go around with a group of male dogs who went from fire hydrant to fire hydrant, always peeing in the same order, and that when her turn came she was lifting her leg just like the boys.
A shelter where I volunteered once housed together a very large female husky who seemed to know she was beautiful and a much smaller generic hound type male. Most of the time the two ignored each other, and when volunteers took them to the exercise yard the husky concentrated on getting human attention and the hound tried to mark every vertical surface. One afternoon the husky followed the hound and pushed him aside every time he began to raise his leg. Each time, the hound just calmly trotted off in search of another spot, but after several minutes the watching volunteers were becoming rather frustrated on his behalf. As we discussed whether to interfere, the husky changed course, stopped in the middle of the yard, and deposited a large pile of poop. The second she walked off the hound trotted over, placed himself precisely over the pile with a leg on each side, and proceeded to very thoroughly soak the pile. As he trotted off with his head and tail high, we volunteers had absolutely no doubt that a statement had been made.
Lisa W says
I am so sorry to hear that there is a chance of a less-than-full recovery for Willie. The good news is that is that he lives with you. Remember, we get the dogs we need. . .
This over-marking topic is fascinating. Our terrier-mix, Olive, is very attentive to where others have peed. Sometimes she will over-mark on Phoebe’s, our female Lab, pee spot, sometimes she will sniff it as Phoebe is peeing, and sometimes she will ignore it. But, she is always aware of where Phoebe has peed. Olive is also a rescue and was extremely hard to house train. A few weeks ago she peed in the house as we were doing tricks after dinner (something she hasn’t done for months and months). Olive is also a poop eater, and while we always go out with them, if we are not right there, she will eat Phoebe’s poop while Phoebe is pooping! (Quadruple yuk!) She will, on occasion, eat her own poop. We have become vigilant about being there and poop scooping, but I also wonder if that makes it worse? Olive will also spend several seconds smelling her own pee, sometimes right after she has marked and other times hours later. She does seem to be very concerned with the who and where and when of elimination.
Phoebe (also a rescue) has never over-marked and actually curls her lip and goes out of her way to not walk near pee (or poop). She seems repulsed at the thought of getting anyone’s pee or poop on her. One time when we stopped at a rest area, I had to find an out-of-the way place where no one had been so that Phoebe could pee and poop. She wouldn’t go in the dog walk area. For her first 4 years, Phoebe lived with Grace, a very dominant female Shepard X, so I wonder if Phoebe learned early on that ignorance was bliss.
Phoebe and Olive do not squabble about anything and each has her own preferred toys and space, but they also share beds and balls, play really well together, and do tricks together. They seemed to have worked out a balance.
I’d love to know if there is more to my observations about Olive’s habits than I realize.
I’m so sorry to hear about Willie’s prognosis. I’m keeping my fingers and toes crossed for him.
Bonnie H. says
interesting discussion. While reading thru the comments, “Facebook” came to mind (more than e-mail). Maybe the over-markings are like clicking ‘like’ or adding a comment; “I read your post, and I like what you had to say” or “Well, I don’t agree” or a simple “Me, too!” At least with ‘foreign’ marks (out on a walk or at the dog park).
My male will occasionally overmark his sister’s spots. One thing I have noticed that’s an ‘always’ is that when she goes out (doggy door) he HAS to go out right behind her (sometimes it looks like one very long dog, as he has his nose under her tail).
My 11year old Sheltie is a huge over marker. On walks he lifts his leg at locations I know other dogs have gone. At the dog park he’ll follow other dogs and immediately go over the top of their spot. He’s been an only-dog for the 10 years I’ve had him. Just this month I got another dog (14 month old Doberman) but neither one over marks the other’s. I always thought this was just territory marking and had nothing to do with heierarchy. I read somewhere that male dogs never completely empty their bladder for this exact reason. Watching my Sheltie I can believe it; if I let him pee every time he wanted to stop our walks would take twice as long.
I am finding this discussion fascinating – for years we were told that overmarking was a “dominant”, high status (sic) behaviour, but the majority of cases on here show it is, if anything, quite the opposite. I do see examples of dominance between my two – Sophy can control a wide arc of the room just by looking at Poppy, and Poppy takes every opportunity of installing herself on the comfy blanket at my feet before Sophy can take up possession – and as I am writing this Sophy has moved to protect the remains of her breakfast from Poppy (genuine dog in the manger – I don’t want it, but you can’t have it!). Must go and put the bowl in the fridge, so Poppy can get back into this half of the room …
I think of overmarking as kind of a “let’s all pee here” thing rather than one dog being dominant and the other subordinant. I have 5 males and they will all overmark each other’s spots- it doesn’t seem to matter who peed first, the next one has to go pee there too, and they want to over mark where the females peed too. The females don’t follow each other like the males for the sole purpose of overmarking but they do use the same spots used by someone else. So much that if I want one of the girls to potty in a hurry because it’s cold or rainy and I want to go in quickly, I’ll take her over to where the another female went. It’s more like the smell gives them the idea,” hey, I need to go too.”
4 out of my 5 dogs over-mark. When we are out and about it is nothing more than Please Sign The Guest Book. When we are at home it appears to be This is Where We Will Pee Today.
My Pit/Plott mix will only over-mark the urine of a dog that is ill. I can only assume this is to cover up the scent of a sick animal as that would attract unwanted attention from predators. She is also the one that lets me know when a dog is ill. She caught my foster’s congestive heart failure and alerts me when something has changed. This gets the foster into the vet for a dosage change that we otherwise never would have caught.
Lisa B says
My new foster dog, Eve, always overmarks the pee spot of my oldest, Lucy, who is the queen of the house and often warns Eve away because she wants no interaction with her. Eve never challenges Lucy in any way, and generally steers clear of her, except to go overmark her pee. I have no idea how to interpret that.
Best wishes to Willie for a speedy recovery!
I currently have two dogs, a 9 year old female Greyhound and a nearly 2 year old male Vizsla. The Vizsla will overmark just about every chance he gets, whether it’s the Greyhound, visiting dogs staying with us or others when out and about. The Greyhound will mark over but is not as persistent about it as the Vizsla. Most of our walks are on our own property where coyotes often mark. Both dogs will mark over the coyotes.
I was just reading a post by Dr Dodman on Dog Star Daily about dogs possibly being able to see urine marks. Have you heard this, and do you think it affects how dogs respond to urine markings rather than just being able to smell them as was previously thought?
I haven’t read the comments, but I will say that my female, dominant till really challenged, rescue dog ALWAYS overmarks, male and female AND she lifts her leg to pee. (Sometimes she does it while squatting, but I have seen her do it and look like a male dog.)
Sorry to hear that Willie had more damage than expected. Continuing to keep all paws crossed that his recovery is also much more than expected.
Something else that leads me to interpret the marking as communication; when we’re out walking dogs behind fences will begin to bark and Ranger will take a quick check of air currents (lifts his head and sniffs) then pee so that the scent goes toward the barking dog. Ranger and the barker can’t interact because one is on leash and the other behind a fence but most of the time after Ranger pees the barker will stop barking. It always seems to me like Ranger is sending the message that it is him and he means no threat just passing by.
My male even pisses on my female’s head!!!!! He is bigger than her!! He pisses anywhere he wants!!! LOL
Deb M says
I have two dogs, a English Springer Spaniel (neutered male) & a Border Collie (spayed female), who are two months apart in age and who were raised together almost like littermates. They are now 14 and have always had a very close relationship and seem equal in status. Their morning ritual is the Springer follows the BC out, waits for her to pee, then overmarks. Every morning, like clockwork. I also have two other younger border collies who seldom show interest in overmarking.
I compete in sheepdog trials and it’s always interesting to watch the dogs loose under the tent interact. My 14 yo BC is quite the “cougar” and loves male border collies and it’s a hoot to watch one mark, the other overmark, then the first one come back and overmark, and on and on.
Don’t know what it all means, but it’s interesting to watch.
Best wishes to Willie!
We will keep thinking of Willie and hope for the best recovery possible.
I’ve never seen so many posts on one page about pee and poop, very amusing and fascinating! I tend to look at marking as just that “marking”. In the past I’ve considered the idea that it is a dominance thing, but the more I look at dogs, especially my dogs marking behaviors I believe its more like a thing of “This is mine, or been there done that!” I think about it in the way I think of chocolate. I tell my husband, that’s my candy bar, don’t eat it. At the end of the day I don’t have a higher status because I’ve claimed the chocolate as mine.
I have a two year old male, Alpha Wannabe (need I say more?) and 6 year old female who is a middle pack dog (formally lowest pack dog in a previous home.) Our male dog loves to mark, and would mark every spot a dog has marked previously marked while out walking. Our female will only over mark our male dogs urine. If we are at the dog park, she isn’t interested in over marking or adjacent marking other dogs urine while our male will always over mark urine. If my male marks first, my female will always over mark his urine, then the male will come back and over mark that. If I continue to walk forward the over marking war stops there, if not, I’m sure I would be standing there until the cows come home.
Signs of “dominance” sure can be puzzling. Us humans are always trying to find the simple answer that explains everything. Dogs seem to have more complicated interactions than most of us believe they can. If only we had a better sense of smell, maybe we’d get what we’ve been missing? I have a young (15mo) female that has begun consistently overmarking my ‘older’ (6yr) female, although usually a few inches off. She’s also been getting quite full of herself and attempting to push the older dogs around, strutting around them with her tail straight up, etc. My male dog sometimes, rarely, overmarks the same older female. He’s done it at the same time she’s going and gotten her. They do not have any ‘contest’ in their relationship at all. They are the only two dogs in my 5 dog pack that can be tossed together in any situation without fear of repercussion. That older female dog cannot in any way be said to be submissive to any of the dogs in my pack. And she’s never cared where anybody pees.
Good & healing thoughts for you and Willie and his best possible recovery.
Sara CV says
This discussion is very interesting to me, as I have very different pee-ers in my house. I have three boys, one intact, and two spayed females. Neither of the females have demonstrated any marking behaviors. My oldest GSP male, who was neutered at 4 months (which I have since decided that is too young to neuter, but I digress) has never marked, and very very rarely even lifts his leg. I’d call him a middle of the ‘pack’ type of dog, confident in himself and for the most part unintersested in other dogs. My younger, 2 year old intact GSP, Ozzy, marks like crazy outside, and does it even more so in situations where he tends to go over threshold, such as at hunt tests or training nights, and does the scratch-off quite a bit in those places too. He is usually very worked up and practically vibrating with tension and excitement (we’re working on that) so to me it seems to be insecurity and attempting to establish himself? He will also somewhat posture other dogs but backs off when challenged.
My rescue border collie, who is the same age, marks a lot as well. Where Ozzy seems to randomly mark, Axel does the same thing as Lassie and constantly marks over other dogs’ urine. Male, female, it doesn’t matter. He will even pee ON THEM as they are still peeing, which drives me CRAZY!! I haven’t figured out what that’s all about. He is not the alpha dog, does not assert himself with the other dogs, just seems a middle of the road kind of guy. He and Ozzy are the only ones that seem to have any conflict at all, which is minor.
The females, while they don’t mark, are the only ones in my house that hump. The Weim was not spayed until she was two, and in her younger years used to hump male dogs?! My Australian Cattle Dog, Carly, went through a phase where she would catch our house cat and hold her with her front legs and hump her. She also humps her ‘bobo’ toy a LOT. Someone explain this to me, please:
I still don’t totally understand humping, if anyone wants to fill me in. Dominance does not totally make sense to me—so she’s dominating that particular toy? Why not others? She seems to be the true alpha dog in my house….my idea of an alpha, anyways. Kinda zen-like when it comes to the other dogs, very tolerant of them, and only ‘reprimands’ when absolutely necessary. The humping part, I do not understand, if anyone has any theories, please share!!!!!
Having been through a similar situation my dog, I fully sympathize with your ordeal with Willie. I’m hoping with all my heart that it all comes out OK.
On the topic of pee, I don’t have another story to add that is any different than the stories already presented. I just find the whole topic rather confusing.
Since we are on the topic of relieving behavior, I thought I would ask about the other one – poo. While dogs seem to make peeing a group activity, poo seems to be different, at least for several dogs I have seen. For example, whenever I go to the dog park, my male dog will pee on vertical surfaces right near the gate and often where other dogs have just peed. But when he has to poo, he goes to the farthest part of the park that he can get (no matter how far away it is from me), to do his business. He always wants to get away from everyone (people and dogs) to poo. And I’ve seen other dogs do that too. What’s up with that?
This may be a different topic completely, but when else will I be able to bring it up?: I think I remember either reading or seeing on one of your videos, you expressing doubt about being able to cue “pee” separately from “poo”. While I haven’t cued my dog specifically that way, he does seem to know the difference. I don’t care where he pees in my backyard, but I do care that he poo in a specific area. I didn’t want to confuse Duke, so when I first got him, I worked hard to train him to always relieve himself in the special spot. Over time, I got lax if Duke peed elsewhere, but I continued to try to get him to poo in the special spot. And now he does it perfectly on his own. I don’t have the two on cue. My point is that dogs can see the two as needing different behaviors. Just sharing.
We only have one dog so over-marking isn’t really something I can document accuratly. However, my girl Winnie (2.5 years) will obviously mark when she’s out on her walk. I used to think that marking in general was more of a male thing but Winnie has totally blown that theory up. She can be a funny little corgi.
My four dogs are a great example of how just because dogs are descendants of wolves doesn’t mean they act like a cooperative pack or behave like wolves. Their social “structure” – if you can even call it that – is pretty fluid and depending on the people and dogs present, there is almost an infinite number of social “reorganizations” that take place daily, most without so much as a dirty look from any of them. Food, toys, treats, seats on the couch, the “throne” (my lap), prime window real estate for squirrel viewing, etc. all cause different dogs to play different roles with one exception: there is a “lowest ranking” dog, by her choice. She defers to anyone and everyone, again by choice. As a result, she is never in any fights, the other dogs do not bully or pick on her, and she just… “is.” Honestly they all just ignore her for the most part, other than some mutual grooming and play. Other than that she just exists. Contentedly and peacefully.
That whole paragraph is the preface to this: she is the most ridiculous overmarker. She overmarks anyone and everyone. She has frequently urinated ON TOP OF the other dogs’ legs and backs because she doesn’t wait for them to finish. She follows the arguably “top” dog of the house around and pees ON HER. Sometimes these two females will both stand in a weird standoff waiting for the other to pee so that the non-pee-er can then overmark! It’s like the first one to pee loses! “Top” dog will overmark, but doesn’t put much effort into it at all. The other two dogs seem to be oblivious to the concept of marking and just allow “low” dog to continue her peaceful, overmarking existence.
[if it makes any difference, “low” dog is a Shiba Inu, the rest are JRTs]
My female dog Sunny over marks constantly. In fact, she rarely just squats and pees, all her urination seems to have a message. She overmarks the two female dogs she lives with as a matter of course, she doesn’t lift her leg, just squats and pees exactly where they just went.
She does lift her leg when she’s over marking or otherwise communication with dogs she doesn’t live with. She always stops and pees on the nearest vertical surface after we pass another dog on a walk. She’s somewhat dog aggressive, so she doesn’t get to meet other dogs on walks, but I’ve worked with her until she can walk by them without any reaction. Then she lifts her leg and squirts after they pass.
Sunny is a senior chow/rottie mix who displays many traits that are traditionally associated with dominance. She lifts her leg, postures, stares, stands over other dogs, etc. But she is also a very anxious dog, and I’m convinced that most of her problems stem from fear and lack of confidence.
I have a female Shiba Inu that likes to mark on other dogs urine and will take a min or two to get it just right and I have a Male Aussie who pee’s in the same area that the female pee’s on when on walks but not right on the Shiba Inu’s pee. He will watch where she is sniffing then dart over there to pee in the same area. I do have to hold him back sometimes because he will knock her over trying to see what she is smelling or peeing on. I would consider my Aussie as a over marker, but I think he is insecure with himself and needs to just go everywhere. He has a hard time with new dogs and if one bark when we are out walking he needs to pee on something right away. He also is in a outdoor fiesty fido class and is always peeing on a bush or grass or rocks. Is it because he is nervous of the other dogs? I would not consider him a dominant dog at all.
If you want to see strange bathroom habit’s get a Shiba Inu!
Hi, I find the topic of dog marking very interesting as I have a pack of 4 border collies and I have one intact male 6 years old, that loves to over mark where my other dogs have gone pee. He is not even the alpha dog of my group. While the other dog is peeing he will wait impatiently close by and quickly pee in the same spot as soon as the other dog leaves……if I’m lucky. Sometimes he just can’t wait, and he lifts his leg and urinates on my other dog while he is still busy peeing. Needless to say this leaves a mess for me to clean up……so for awhile I would hide out of sight and then clap my hands loudly and yell when I saw him getting ready to lift his leg on my other dog and thankfully this has changed his behavior back to just over marking. However in other instances he has lifted his leg and urinated on other dogs even when they weren’t urinating which is what is what brought me to write this note. I was wondering if anyone else has dealt with this? It first happened at the dog park. He marked a very small dog, and I thought it was an accident. Then it happened a few more times, to smaller dogs. I stopped bringing him to the dog park needless to say. I have also seen him while on the herding field walk over and mark other dogs that are tied up to the other side of a fence. So I have to really keep an eye on him when he is on the loose as it doesn’t make me very popular with others…….I have a castration appointment scheduled for June and I’m optimistic that this socially awkward situation will at least diminish in frequency once he is no longer intact.
Laura Atwood says
My 11-year old male Border Collie/heeler ALWAYS over marks on top of my 6-year old female Rottweiler pee. He will drag me backward if he catches her peeing on the walk and he was in front of her. If I don’t allow him to drag me back then he gets very agitated and I have to assure him that he’ll survive not peeing on top of every pee Lily takes. He never over marked when our male Chow mix was alive but that dog tended to push my BC around a bit. My Rottie is “submissive” to my BC in play – she’s always on her back and he’s standing over her play-growling and biting. But the Rottie is “dominant” when it comes to things – she always gets the dead mice or the deer bone that they find on the walk and my BC just backs off. But he doesn’t miss a chance to over mark on her pee!
Kyra Collins says
Our 14 year old Staffie female has over-marked her best girlfriend & housemate’s pee for 10 years – since we..umm, acquired her in other words. Cola the chocolate Lab is pretty definitely the in charge dog in a perfectly nice way, and the two girls have adored each other since Day #1, but Scout over marks on Cola – not the other way around. Cola never over marks anyone. Our young male rat terrier Pico however will rush over when Cola squats and will lift his leg ON her while she pees. Which she never seems to notice either. She just does not seem that into pee. Taking a dump is a different matter; Cola was slightly difficult to travel with for years because she absolutely would not poop ON leash, she would rather explode. Nor will she poop anywhere near our house off leash, however desperate she is. She likes to go as far away as possible, into woods or shrubbery if possible and have a very private distant dump.
My 4 year old neutered male Pem always over marks (sometimes pees on her he’s in such a hurry to get his pee in) on top my 3 year old female spayed Pem pee. He is big on marking anywhere during walks, but he will make a beeline for the female when she is peeing (or he hears me say “good potty, Blaze”).
However, Blaze is the feisty one who starts the fights here at home. She is tennis ball aggressive (I know, very specific) and food aggressive towards other dogs and my male Billy. She is also an insecure, nervous little wreck of a dog that falls apart when Billy is not around. Billy generally is easy-going and sweet. Occasionally food aggressive, a little more so ever since he was put on steroids. He doesn’t really care for Blaze and would probably rather be an only dog that gets all the attention.
Both of my dogs over mark each other occasionally over the course of our nightly long walk. One is a 3 year old Beagle mix we’ve had for a year while the other is a 1 year old Lab/BC cross we’ve had for two weeks. They’re both very curious and crazy about other dogs so they’re constantly stopping to sniff the marks of other dogs. The two of them already seem to think of themselves as a team, with one always checking out what the other is interested in. The Lab mix is still a little insecure after months in the shelter, so he relies on the Beagle to know what’s going on while she seems to get a kick out of having a follower. Their social order is fluid depending on the resource they’re after but the best way to get the Lab mix to do something is to get the Beagle to do it first. The Lab mix isn’t obsequious but is very respectful of the Beagle unless a tennis ball is involved. Through dumb luck, both of these shelter dogs are very well socialized with other dogs so there is practically no tension in their arrangement.
I have two dogs, both females: Pip, who is about 2 1/2 and Thisby, who is 7 years old. If we use dominance terms, Thisby would be the “alpha” and Pip is definitely submissive to her (she’s actually a little scared of Thisby). These two dogs never play together and just ignore the other completely. But when we go outside, Pip does the same thing you described–she waits for Thisby to pee, and then marks over it. For a long time I thought it might be some kind of dominance marking thing, but lately I’ve come to wonder if she’s not just trying to copy Thisby, or if she maybe thinks that if Thisby has peed on that spot then that must be the spot we all pee on.
Very interesting topic. Best to Willie!
Jennifer Hamilton says
I have three spayed females. The highest status female is a classic overmarker. 75% of the tine, she will wait behind the second status female until she’s done and then overmark. Years ago, she was more of an adjacent marker, but now she clearly overmarks. The other 25% of the time, she picks her own spot to pee. I’m not sure if she just isn’t interested in at that moment or if she just has to pee badly and can’t wait for the other one to go. The other two females have shown no interest in over or adjacent marking.
The thing that I find super interesting is that my overmarker always smells the spot first before she overmarks. When the smell is acceptable, it’s a very fluid movement. Kind if like…”sniff, squat, pee, mission accomplished, move on.” But about 1 out of every 15 times, she clearly becomes turned off by the smell, jerks her head to the side, and trots quickly at least 10 feet away and pees separately. I am so curious as to what she’s smelling and what her decision making is. It’s a very obvious body movement as if she’s saying, “abort, abort…do not pee over THAT!”.
The other interesting tidbit is that my second status female takes Proin (estrogen replacement) for urinary incontinence and is on a maximum dose. Although I can’t be positive, I seem to recall that the high status overmarker started this behavior roughly around the same time as when we put the second status female on Proin. I wish I had kept a journal to be certain, because that would be an interesting area of investigation.
I’ve no time to read all the comments, but I’ll just add a quick data point for you.
My neutered young male dog, who often appears overconfident but is actually fearful of other dogs, always overmarks the pee left by my mothers elderly lab bitch Jenny. Jenny is also neutered, significantly bigger than him, and tells him off firmly when he’s annoying her (his reaction is ‘oops, sorry Aunty Jenny’ appeasement sginals).
Ann F says
I don’t feel you can make any accurate conclusions about the marking issue! With a three year old Boxer, each walk is different. Some days the leg lifts high (with crazed sniffing), others there is just a brief sniff, but much more interest in tracking the ground for a rabbit dropping. He does have a good nose, with his dam being a registered narcotics dog. Go figure.
I do have a question about why he turns around often, after play or training, and presents his butt about a foot from my face. Maybe it’s a male thing, a reward for my efforts:-)
Leanne Paetkau says
Best thoughts and wishes to your pup!
When visiting a farm with my beardie, the resident/matriarch collie would always squat and mark where he did, right afterwards he went. It got to the point where it felt like she was stalking him, constantly going over any place he dared to go (she did not to this with the 2 other resident dogs from what I saw or from what my friends mentioned…) It was very interesting. They did describe her as a very territorial dog who did not welcome new dogs to the property…
Interesting topic! Some 7-8 years ago I came to the conclusion, that peeing in a group probably is more of a bonding thing – I want to belong to the same gang! – than an expression for social status. I had 2 male dalmatians, the older one not enjoying getting a young stressed out rescue companion and for the first year they would fight from time to time. But the older was still fine with the younger peeing over his markings after maybe a week. I saw that as a sign of being accepted into the family.
With the dogs in the daycare center I had at a few years ago I often saw the more nervous dogs hanging around the more assertive dogs, waiting for them to pee and than either stand so close they almost got showered or quickly go themselves. Smells are such a wonderful world!
For whatever it’s worth, my two dogs overmark with urine and adjacent mark with poop whenever they come across fresh coyote scat in the yard. I refer to it as the ‘poop off,’ which the dogs seem to be losing as it’s not much of a deterrent. I expect it from the one more regular overmarker, but it’s a surprise coming from the other who rarely overmarks when it comes to dogs. I suppose the regular overmarker could be marking on top of occasional marker who marks on the coyotes… I’ll have to pay better attention to the order, but I think either will mark over coyote scat regardless of which dog got there first.
Both my female dogs overmark each other in the yard. They seem to trade off and both do it equally to each other. One will go out with the express intent to pee and the other will walk behind her and wait for the other to pee, then pee directly over it. It’s equal, they both do it to each other and there doesn’t seem to be a pattern as to who is going to do it to whom on a given day or given time of day.
When we go for a walk or a hike, they both exessively mark all over the place, particularly in places they have peed before or places where coyotes or other dogs have been, marked or deficated. The eldest who’s 13 this year, and is the dog that runs the house (or thinks she does) , will mark next to or a few feet away from other dogs and coyote markings, but the younger female, who’s 5 this year, will, as far as I can tell, always overmark in addition to marking where there has been no previous mark….well, mark randomly without sniffing the spot first.
Maybe it’s related, or not, but the 13yr old is no fan of other dogs. She doesn’t want anything to do with them and never has. She won’t give them the time of day, unless it’s to swiftly lay them flat for approaching her and then she walks away afterwards and ignores them completely. The 5 yr old has difficulty with greeting new dogs, appearing to want to greet them but not wanting to be greeted in return. She can be over reactive and tense, partcularly dogs of the same size or larger than her. Smaller dogs she’s more relaxed around and more likely to engage play with after a time. She’s not a small dog herself, being nearly 24″ at the shoulder.
If it interests you at all, the 5yr old appears to be a border collie mix and the 13rd old is a mix of anyones guess…looking lkind of like a brittany spaniel/aussie mix, of a sort.
I have 6 Chihuahua’s, some rescues, and one in particular pees everywhere!!! Mr. Shivers even pees on the other dogs when they are peeing,…yes we give baths frequently. He will mark my couch cover, my bed, my pillows, sheets, clothes, anything and everything sitting on the floor is a target. He’s NOT the dominant male here, and he is neutered.d
I have 2 Brittany’s, male and female. Both are easy going with no special dominant dog. Neither of them engage in over urinating but now I have a Golden Retriever for 2 weeks and this has pattern has emerged. First my Brittany bitch, then my Brit dog finished off by my son’s GR bitch. The GR shows more signs of submission than dominance. Could this be a way of forming a pack in some way?
My two dogs definitely overmark. Max (poodle) has been the more dominant of the two for many years, however this seems to be changing as Max is avoiding eye contact and refuses to pass by Clancy (cattle X) in confined spaces.
Generally Clancy will pee first, then Max will overmark – sometimes waiting ‘in-line’ and sometimes coming along later sniffing to find the exact place to overmark. I originally thought this was a sign of Max being dominant.
Now I am unsure, as Clancy often overmarks where Max has already overmarked (ie. 3 pees in one place). However, as mentioned above, there are other signs that Clancy may now be the dominant dog (or that Max is becoming more submissive).
So, do three pees mean that the dogs are still jockeying for position, ie Max used to be dominant & therefore overmarked Clancy’s pee, but now Clancy re-overmarks on Max’s pee as he is becoming more dominant? Or is overmarking and dominance totally unrelated?
I did have four dogs…a 10 year old shihtzu neutered male, two shihtzu cross females aged 3.5 and a two year old jack russell female.
Ally (one of the sisters) and Roxie (jack russell) had a couple of fights over the two years. One in particular seemed to establish Ally as the leader and there wasnt really a fight after that unless there was a season. That was however, until I moved house. Ally and Roxie were at constant logger heads and unfortunately because she was getting injured, I have had to rehome Roxie.
I am unsure if it has been going on a while or if I have just become more sensitive since having to rehome Roxie, but Ally now ALWAYS waits for Jess to pee in the garden first, and then overmarks. I dont know if its a dominance thing either, although since having to rehome Roxie I have become incredibly nervous at anything that could build up to confrontation between my remaining three dogs. Ally never overmarks Tommy, and jess doesnt seem bothered in the slightest.
Ally displays aggression towards other dogs when out walking. I dont know if this is actually aggression or whether this combined with the overmarking is her way of protecting her sister…?
Ally does sometimes growl at jess if Jess gets boisterous (she loves to play) and again, I dont know if I shoul intercept this or just interpret it as if she is saying ‘pack it in’!
Ally and Jess are cwtched up sleeping as i type. Its a strange one…!
I have two dogs that mark by urinating and yes, one is a spayed female. Rose my 5 yr old spayed female Border Collie is submissive to just about every dog under the planet and is actually terrified of any breed of dog larger than her (she lived in the shelter system from the ages of 6 mo- 9 months- enough said). But, Rose lived in my house when I brought home Loki as a puppy. Loki is now a 2 yr old intact male Border Collie. Loki is an extremely confident male who greets other dogs with his tail up and his head up. Funnily enough, Rose tells Loki what to do, when to do it, and how. Loki does as she says although I don’t think there is another dog on this planet that he’d mind besides her. Loki marks on his walks and Rose typically marks over where he’s marked. Sometimes right on top, other times within a foot of his spot. Rose also leg lifts a little bit to mark.
Even odder, I have been told by several self-proclaimed experts in the stockdog community that I should correct Loki for marking and that dogs that are allowed to mark get into fights. But if I don’t allow him to mark he won’t be “dominant” and get into fights. Yet, their dogs left lift and they insist that isn’t marking. Um, yeah. If it wasn’t for my Biology degree, years of clicker training, and an a firm belief in a trust-based relationship I might actually listen to them. Instead it just makes me say inappropriate words and beat up my couch pillow some more. 😉 I’d love to hear more of your ideas and knowledge on these “hot” topics. It’d be nice to have some valid information out here. Thanks!
We have two dogs right now. Reba is our foster (spayed female pit mix, about 2 years old), and our dog Diamond, also a fixed two-year-old female, a shar-pei mix–if you believe Wisdom Panel, she’s equal parts shar-pei, AmStaff, and Golden Retriever. Diamond is super-shy, hesitant, and easily frightened. Reba is confident and bossy and not really scared of anything except thunderstorms. Reba would probably be described as dominant and Diamond as submissive. (This is definitely true of resources–Reba takes what she wants and Diamond doesn’t argue.) However, Reba is also very protective of Diamond and will get growly with any dog that gets in Diamond’s face.
Reba always, always, always overmarks Diamond’s pee. If the hubby and I are walking dogs and Diamond is ahead and pees, we know that Reba will have to stop to pee on the spot. If Diamond squats, Reba will sniff around, wait for her to finish, and pee over top.
Reba does the same thing with her buddies at doggie daycare. Because of the protective thing, and because there are a couple dogs she doesn’t like (no bites or anything, just growling and on one occasion rolling another dog), she usually goes out with just one other dog, one of the ones she really likes. And she will always overmark his pee.
With Reba, it could be a dominance thing, but I don’t know if she’s bossy or dominant towards the dogs she plays with at daycare. It strikes me as possessive more than anything else–like she’s saying, particularly about Diamond, “this dog is *mine* and nobody else better mess with her.”
Janine Lazur says
Google helped me find your post so I’ll add to your informal data. I have an 8 yr old female spayed boxer and a 1.5 yr old unneutered male boxer who I adopted a few months ago. He is so eager to overmark my female’s pee that he sometimes pees on her. It’s definitely not an urgent elimination thing (that he can’t wait to pee himself). Most times he has already peed and then when he sees her start to pee, he runs over and overmarks. Or if she’s still there, marks her. Fortunately she ignores him.
I went googling to see if it was a dominance myth or not. Does the leader pee and followers overmark? Or followers pee and leaders overmark. Looks like the jury is still out. Looking forward to a followup post in the future if science gives us an answer.
Mara Call says
I enjoyed your post.
My oldest female dog, Molly who has resided here the longest, over marks on everything. There is also occasional and sometimes fierce tension between her and Coco, the younger dog who we rescued three years ago. Molly will also pee on Coco’s back end quite regularly.
Otherwise they ignore each other. They don’t play together much. When we go for hikes or walks Molly (who has some herding dog in her), will go look for Coco if we ask her to, but otherwise will pretty much do her own thing, leaving the other two dogs to their own devices for the most part.
The fighting has lessened, but the over marking and peeing on Coco has not. It seems to have worsened lately when our brother in laws unfixed and not yet year old male Dane stayed at our home for two months. He and Molly got into it a lot. She even had to be taken to the doc once. But Coco could put the Dane in his place with a crazy look and a low growl. Those two became fast friends and Molly seemed cowed by Chester and his testosterone. It almost seemed to me that in the hierarchy of the pack, Molly fell low on the totem pole.
Since he has left, she has peed on Coco every day. What to make of all this? Reestablishing her role and hierarchy? I have lived with dogs all my life and come across social situations regularly that boggle the mind. Would love any input on this.
I just saw this article. I don’t know if it is too late to make a comment.
My male nearly 1 year old cocker spaniel crossed with something – not sure what – always over marks my older 3 year old’s (cockerpoo) wee and waits to see where she wees then goes and licks it up and wees over the top. Sometimes he just doesn’t wait until she finishes and wees on her. I find it quite disgusting and make him go first and then make him wait inside while she goes outside. He goes berserk if he knows she has had a wee outside (sniffing her as she comes in) and runs around in a panic to be let out to go to lick and wee over the top. It is quite something to see. He has done this for quite a while now and I don’t know if there is any way to either understand or stop him doing it. I wondered if it was hormonal and would settle if he was neutered?
Love this info! I own/manage a dog day and nightcare and have been wracking my brain to figure out how to provide resting spots for the dogs without it all immediately becoming pee soaked LOL.
I wonder if many of the pee-ers in my facility simply want their smell around for their own comfort. Some dogs pee once or twice and don’t repeat until we mop. Others overpee, especially intact males (of which we allow a very small few). The ones who overpee, IME, are not confident dogs. Running a daycare since 2001 I too have seen marking behaviors that run the gambit. Some have been very funny to us humans! I too believe there are a myriad of reasons.
Gail my male standard poodle Banjo sometimes doesn’t wait for his best friend Lady to finish peeing. Over 11 years with her I’d say she is a fearful dog who used to cope/manage that fear by appearing aggressive. Perhaps the best offense is a good defense. Jo was the dog who taught her to play with another dog and didn’t seem to ever hold a grudge all those years ago. He is SO laid back we frequently call him a dope-smoking surfer dude. If I remind him not to pee on her he waits patiently.
Michelle Cannon says
Well I never… I have been sitting 2 extra dogs over the months, each evening when I collect the bowls to feed, I am a little confused by the yellowish resin on the bottom the big pink bowl. Wondering to myself, why isn’t it licked clean, that’s what dogs do. Tonight I happen to walk past as all 3 dogs had finished their dinner, here is Maggie the smallest Jack Russell cocking her leg and peeing into her friends dog bowl, this has gone on for some time, now I know, is this spite?
We have two spayed females, both rescue dogs. The four year old sheltie/plot hound mix is the boss but loves the two year old Italian greyhound mix. We adopted the four year old at 10 weeks and the two year old at 6 months. The younger dog always overmarks the four-year-old’s pee. She watches out of the corner of her eye and then makes a bee-line to where the older dog urinates, sniffs until she finds the exact spot and overmarks the spot. The older dog pays no attention and could care less. The older dog always gets to play with new toys first and has to be fed first. The younger dog always follows the lead of the older dog. I thought the overmarking might mean that the younger dog wants to appear as important as the big dog, sorta like how people want to identify themselves with being close friends with famous or popular people. The two dogs enjoy each other and play well together. When we first brought the younger pup home, the older dog took all her toys and hid them under the dining room table. She brought one toy out and let the puppy play with it and then tried to take it away. When the puppy growled, the older dog acted like a mother dog and put the puppy in its place and took to the toy away. About 15 minutes later, she tried it again and gave the puppy the toy. When she went to take the toy away, the puppy let her take it. Then the older dog took all the toys out from the table and let the new puppy play with them. To this day, the younger dog always lets the older dog go first.
This is very interesting. My two dogs are 14 and 16. My 16 yr. old came down with Glaucoma and had his eye deadened from the pain causing blindness in one eye. We recently moved and I noticed he had a tough time getting used to his surroundings understandably so. Then my 14 yr. old started overmarking (peeing) everywhere my 16 yr. old peed. I was wondering if my 16 yr. old wasn’t marking properly as far as directions (get back to the house in the backyard, etc.) so my 14 yr. old was helping him out remarking to get him back to the house. Don’t know…just a thought.
Do you have any updates on this? I have two dogs. One an altered male 3 year old Greyhound and the other an altered female 13 year old Greyhound/Foxhound mix. They both over mark each other! It just depends on who goes to the bathroom first. They will do it to each other several times on the average walk. The female has always over marked any dog she’s ever come across. Not sure about the male as we’ve only had him a couple months.
Unfortunately, I believe they are having a power struggle at our house right now as the female is pretty dominant and had lived alone for a long time. The male was submissive to her at first, but now seems to be more comfortable in the home and he is less deferential than he was before. This has resulted in her attacking him more than once.
We are currently trying to figure out what to do aside from assert our own leadership as the human pack leaders. We can’t quite figure out who to back in the next level role if at all. Do we feed the male first and allow him to enter and exit before the female because he is quite a bit larger, younger and stronger? Or, do we back the female because she is the more dominant and has always been the big dog in the house?
We just want harmony!
I have a female pug approximately 11 years old, whom I’ve had for around six months and a male shih-tzu who is a year and a half and I’ve had him since he was eight weeks old…my pug overmarks my shih-tzu’s urine regularly…she will actually wait for him to pee and then go directly over top of where he did…once in awhile he will overmarks her but I’ve never seen him actually wait to see where she goes, just if he happens to be around when she does…I’ve been so curious about their behavior with this…they get along really well most of the time…on the rare occasion, he will be sniffing her and she will snap at him as if to say ‘ back up buddy’ or ‘ not now’…but its not often at all and they eat and sleep together with no issues at all…I should also say that he is not fixed but I’m not sure about her…but they really are so funny…they will wait for each other when I take them in and out…I do think that she is the dominant of the two in alot of ways, as when we are riding in the car they both ride on my lap with their heads out the window and she will knock him over to have the top position lol…and the marking, and the way she snaps at him but he never has with her…honestly idk what it all means for sure, I just know they are happy dogs and they make me happier than I can express…that’s all that really matters, I guess…
Hi just to add to the confusion of dogs peeing on other dogs urine,
I am a dog handler and I have two German sheperds one female and one male, the male is extremely dominant in a lot of other areas. I have been wondering for the pastb2 years why he pees every single sent he gets of another dogs pee or my female when she pees… Almost identical to your story he will wait behind her for her to finish. However!!!!
Ive been working where there has been no toilets so I’ve been peeing myself in a bush… And the god damn dog ants to pee on my pee too… Anywhere I go he wants to pee I top? If he can’t get to it then he’ll just pee as close as he can… So this isn’t just a dog to dog thing surely? It’s about urine in general. Also you will often see foxes doing the same while they are on there rounds of wondering around. So please anybody ever finds out the true reason for pee marking then I’d love to know!
Just googled this question and found y’all. I have 3 female brittanys, all 7 years old. The third joined my two when my mother came to live with me. They were 4 then. There was a tense and tough melding of the three; with most stress between my dominant and my mother’s dog, who was used to being the only dog in the house (and I suspect saw herself as pack leader of herself and my mother). For 2 years we dealt with the adjustment while they struggled to determine who would be boss. Resource guarding led to us having to feed them all separately. No more chews or toys. There would be the occasional flare-up and non-biting fight (2-3x/year). Eventually, they evened out and we could have toys and chews again without drama. Since then, they have co-existed well, but I notice the new girl ALWAYS overmarks my dominant girl. I never can tell if the overmarking is an “I want to be the boss” or a “Don’t forget I am the boss” gesture, but I definitely don’t see the new girl as being in any way protective of my dominant girl (quite the contrary).
David Briedis says
This post is in regard to the Power of Pee. In it you mentioned that you have a dog that over marks another one if your dog’s pee. Well, my family had 2 female dogs. A Chug(Chihuahua/Pug mix) and a Boston Terrier both of which are rescue dogs. As far as my wife and I are concerned or can tell Roxy (the Chug) is the dominant female. Lizzie, however is the one who over marks. She, Lizzie, is a very affectionate and sweet lady who we believe may be trying to hide or mask Roxy’s scent like a mother tries to hide her puppies from predators. She is afraid at most times that Roxy will attack her which occasionally she does do. We have prevented any and all injuries from occurring but it is still bothersome. Lizzie, the submissive dog always ends up in control of any contest but still fears Roxy. Anyway, Lizzie is very motherly to Roxy so I often wonder if she is just trying to mask Roxy’s scent not for dominance but to protect her.
Very Odd. Any ideas.
Also, if there is any advice as far as Roxy’s jealous attacks on Lizzie that would be great.
I have two female spayed dogs. Lola a puggle whom I’ve had two years longer than izzy who is a rescue 75 percent lab 25 percent pit. Lola for the most part ( once she got used to the fact that izzy was staying) can’t be bothered with izzy. Izzy always overmarks Lola . She will wait until Lola pees before she goes.ALWAYS. Lola is timid with other dogs and afraid of them. But when izzy is with her she acts tough( like she knows she has back up). Once in a dog park izzy was off playing with another dog . A puppy about half the size of Lola came over to Lola and was sniffing her it was obvious Lola was not enjoying this . Izzy noticed the interaction and came over and nudged the puppy out of the way. In the house Lola is the boss , izzy always defers to her with food, treats ,toys etc. I view izzys over marking as a sign of protection. She only overmarks Lola ,no other dogs.
Charles G. Couturier says
Then Sandy, I may venture stating that Izzy is overmarking as a means of affilation.
I’m the proud human of a 2yo female Shiba Inu. She’s an omega (meaning, she couldn’t care less about the dominance paradigm). She feels accountable to no one, and she’s friend with everyone.
Being a Shiba, she’s independant in nature, and a dog isn’t about to teach her, how to “read the timeline and leave a few comments”. Her name is Sana.
Lola (a coincidence), is her best friend. She’s a 2 and a half yo, 13 pounds Golden Doodle. She has much more temper, and definitely say no, protect her resources, etc (something my Shiba isn’t capable of, she’s really an omega).
Lola always overmarks Sana. She seems to be doing this by habit, as a means to affiliate with her friends. I can not think of any other probable explanation.
We have a dog that pees on clothing, blankets and beds. He has pee pads. It is disgusting when he pees on the kids clothing or bedding. He does not have competition with another animal, so wonder whether it is just a male thing. He is an inside dog and maybe that has something to do with it. Not sure. Never seen another dog who has had this type of behavior.
Kelly Bollwahn says
I have two Male Pits who are 5 years apart in age and I’ve noticed from the moment I got Loki, the younger more dominant dog, that Thor, who is extremely submissive, will over mark every time Loki pees. Please keep in mind that Loki was fixed young enough that he is a squatter for life and Thor lifts his leg all the time. But I could never figure it out. At first I thought it was Thor showing Loki his place because he has been part of my pack longer, but now Thor will let Loki stand over him, steal toys with out Thor stealing them back. Thor basically let’s Loki be beat to my alpha. This article helped me start to understand that it may not be a marking just Thor being friendly to his brother by saying Hi. Or something we just don’t understand yet. Lol
I’ve been fascinated reading the string of comments of over peeing! Oddly, I wondered why we have generally assumed that dogs pee over other pee as a sign of territorial marking while I was out walking the other day which lead me to find this article & comments. I had wondered if it was actually more about “joining forces” with the unknown other dogs in the neighbourhood/park – as comrades not as as rivals? On the whole dogs are friendly & sociable & there is safety in numbers. I was the thinking of taking a pee myself in the garden to see if my dog attempts to pee over it?!
It’s nice to see a genuinely curious conversation about dog behavior instead of a post that claims to have all the answers.
I also have a pair of dogs (both male and neutered) in which the more submissive one is the over-marker. Alpha is a pit/hound/lab rescue, about 5 years old, and Beta is a Boston terrier/Min Pin mix about 1.5 yrs old. Alpha spends most of his time trying to get treats out of humans, and Beta spends most of his time trying to get Alpha (or humans) to play with him, usually by bringing them toys or flattening himself to the ground, rump up and tail wagging. Beta is very socially confident despite his small size but not really dominant, even without Alpha around, and virtually never pees unless Alpha has peed first.
Thank you for the compliment Caitlin, much much appreciated!
Robin Korsmit says
We just adopted a 10-year-old dog who seems to be marking directly over other dogs poop and pee. Pee I am not sure, but he intensively sniffs a place to proceed to marking exactly that spot. He is nervous about new people and defends himself by lashing out. With dogs, we haven’t introduced him to any yet as he is so nervous about strangers, We are working on that, the shelter said they let him play with a female from time to time which went well. When we come across dogs and we fail to distract him, he reacts from lashing out to wide tail wagging and pulling the leash depending on the dog. Such an interesting topic to discuss, I am really wondering how he is feeling when overmarking. I hope he is not too nervous about them, we live in a small town so he will get to know them in time and with training.
My youngest female dog Olive ALWAYS pees directly over the top of my other female dog, Penny. EVERYTIME! It is so annoying to watch this. She will wait right behind her until she is finished or not even and just make Penny feel rushed and make her stop and go somewhere else while Olive quickly pees on top of hers. I don’t know why it bothers me so much but I would like to get her to stop. Any suggestions?