I am sure you have seen this many times when taking your dog for a walk, especially if it’s a he. He will pee several times and never resist spraying on objects that rise up from the ground, like bushes, tree stumps and the ubiquitous fire hydrants. In fact, it is almost a cliché that if a dog sees a fire hydrant, he is most likely to raise his leg and shower on it. They start doing this from the time they are three months old, and it could be during their walks, in their homes and yards and when visiting other locations. A dog must be at least three months of age to urine mark.
Have you ever wondered why?
Before we unravel the secret behind their love for the hydrants, let’s see what urinating means in the canine world, apart from, of course, flushing out the toxins.
- Ready to Procreate: It is an indication of their readiness to mate. Especially unspayed females and unneutered males will urine mark more than spayed or neutered dogs. You can spot unspayed females urine marking before or around the time they are in heat.
- When They See Strangers: For a dog, his home and the paths he frequents are his kingdom. Like all predators, he establishes the boundaries of his kingdom with a urine mark. If he spots a strange dog or smells on, he is likely to mark over that to declare categorically who the master is.
- Social Reasons: Whatever excites your pet, be it meeting another of the same sex or the opposite can trigger a desire to mark. It could be due to being highly aroused or because he is overstimulated.
- Anxiety: Your one true loyal friend could be stressed and anxious, causing him or her to urine mark more than usual.
Know Thy Neighbors
For the human, the urine is just a waste and the smell is quite abhorrent. But animals view it as a record that reveals much about the individual. Just by sniffing the urine left behind by another dog, they can gather details such as their age, gender, fertility and health. What they do about this information is beyond our understanding but it is their way of knowing the other dogs in the neighborhood.
Why the hydrants, though?
Who would have guessed that dogs also use urine markings as not only a way to define their territories but also to exaggerate their body sizes and appear bigger than they are! Three Cornell undergraduates actually took time to study 1,000 dogs over a period of time, even videotaping them when they urinated. Interestingly, they found that the smaller they are, the higher they want to pee, possibly trying to impress their mates and intimidate potential rivals. Smaller dogs also tended to mark more frequently than large dogs. On average, the dogs raised their legs at high angles ranging from about 85° to 147°, with the smaller dogs going for the higher angles.
They have two theories for why dogs tend to do it:
- This could be one way of preventing confrontations by trying to establish their largeness and communicating the message of ‘Don’t mess with me.’
- They could be superimposing a bigger dog’s mark with their own to establish their supremacy in the territory they have identified as their own
But there is another viewpoint too. The desire to mark over another’s urine may not be with a desire to show their power but because they love to cover others’ scents with their own. And it may seem as if the smaller ones are trying to show themselves as big, but in reality, their higher angle maybe because of being limber than larger dogs.
The Fatal Attraction
But is that all there is to this fascination dogs have for the fire hydrants? Is it the excitement about detecting the smell of another dog on it that gets them all worked up?
Maybe not. The hydrant does offer something more that is attractive to the dogs. The dyes used in the paint applied on most municipal hydrants apparently have a scent that appeals to your pooch. It probably smells like another dog has been around, establishing a claim to the territory. Inside the house, a raised object doesn’t necessarily evoke their desire to pee while it happens outside, suggesting that the trigger is not just in the height but something more
Should You Be Worried?
There may be much debate about the love the dogs have for the hydrant, but it hasn’t been identified as a cause for concern till now. Like most predators, dogs too mark on whatever stands prominent in their territory, and it is not just the poor hydrant that has been singled out for the purpose. You will notice dogs peeing on telephone poles and even car tires.
What can be a cause for concern is when they start doing it inside the house, to the legs of the table or the sofa. That needs proper training and clear rules so that your loving pet can know what is acceptable and what is not. It could also be because you have got a new pet and your pet is telling the newcomer who the boss is.
Proper training can prevent them from displaying such behavior inside the house. This may take time and patience, but this is the next best method to neutering.
Neutered dogs also do not tend to display this marking behavior. According to a vet, 60% of neutered male dogs stop having the urge to urine mark soon after castration.
The next time you see your pet smelling, circling and peeing on a hydrant, you don’t have to feel baffled or mystified. He or she is displaying normal behavior and you can go with the flow. Start worrying only if he or she is replicating that behavior inside the house. In which case, firmly discourage it. Neutering or spaying is a good way to curtail the marking behavior.