You've probably seen your male dog lifting his leg to pee when you’re getting your daily walk in. He doesn’t care whether it’s a tree, a fire hydrant, or your neighbor’s mailbox; to him, everything’s fair game. It's so natural that you probably don't even think twice when your pup stops to kick up their leg.

Why Do Dogs Lift Their Leg to Pee?

We know that animals mark their territory by peeing, and dogs are no different. The positioning of that leg is an all-important factor in the message that your canine is putting out there when he – or she – marks their territory.

Dogs have an incredible number of around 300 million olfactory receptors, making their sense of smell much more powerful than ours. While it may sound gross, with this superpower, they can infer a lot from other dogs' urine.

For example, they can work out the other canine's height, gender, general health, and even social status among the other dogs in the community. Pretty impressive stuff for such a basic, natural process.

So, when your dog lifts his or her leg to pee, they’re leaving their own stamp on the world. And by lifting their leg, they can aim just that little bit higher. Since height and size lend themselves a great deal toward social status, they’re making themselves appear as big as they can possibly be to other dogs.

It’s a little like standing on your tiptoes when somebody’s taking your height, or leaning to one side of the scale when you’re being weighed after a cheat day on the diet.

What age do dogs start lifting their leg?

You can typically expect your male dogs to start lifting their leg to urinate when they are around 6 to 12 months old - it's around the same time that they begin to develop sexual maturity. It doesn't matter whether they're neutered or not; both groups of pups are known to lift a leg when peeing.

Why Do Some Female Dogs Lift Their Leg to Pee?

If you've got a female dog who likes to lift her leg when she pees, it's nothing to worry about. Most female dogs squat, but some might lift their leg out of personal preference.

It also makes sense when you think about why dogs like to pee on vertical surfaces as opposed to the ground. The urine travels down with gravity, resulting in a larger surface area being covered. This, in turn, results in a stronger scent marker.

One study from around 2004 looked into female dog urination. Researchers found that the further a female dog ventured from home, the more likely she was to aim her pee at objects. This supports the idea that some female canines want to mark their territory as much as males, especially when it’s a new and exciting area.

Black and white Puppy Dog looking directly in the garden in front of thyme.

Do All Male Dogs Lift Their Legs?

We don't actually know all of the reasons why some dogs lift their legs while others do not. We do know that it's a behavioral habit, and to an extent, hormonal too. We also know that it’s a territorial behavior that allows larger dogs to show their dominance over others.

However, some dogs are more submissive than others, so they’re less likely to engage in these kinds of behaviors. This could be down to their size or their personality. Some dogs might also simply find it less comfortable than squatting down to the ground.

One final drop: if your dog’s urination habits have changed, it could signal that something’s amiss. Dogs who suddenly change their posture when urinating might be suffering from joint pain. If you’ve got an older pup who has suddenly started or stopped lifting their leg at an older age, it’s worth having a chat with your vet to rule out any discomfort.