Sizing up the competition via scent

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Urine marking is the canine equivalent of a graffiti artist leaving a tag to mark their territory.  Not only does scent marking serve to cover up scents left by neighbourhood canines, it also provides precious information to others: from when that individual passed by, the animal’s state of health and emotional state to age, gender and even whether the dog is in heat!  In this respect, the scent mark is an ‘honest’ signal.

Eighteen years ago, Dr Stanley Coren published How to Speak Dog: Mastering the Art of Dog-Human Communication in which he described Australian wild dogs running up trees and somersaulting ‘mid-pee’ to reach the highest part of the trunk.  Coren’s summation was that this communicated to other dogs within the surrounding environment that the ‘King Kong’ of all canids ‘lived here’.   In other words, the height of the scent mark denoted size and this was an example of ‘dishonest’ signalling.  Now a new study, published in the Journal of Zoology, appears to validate this hypothesis in regards to domestic dogs.

McGuire et al. (2018) analysed the peeing patterns of 45 male dogs and found smaller dogs eliminated and chose vertical targets, such as trees, more frequently than larger dogs.  The researchers concluded smaller dogs may exaggerate their stature to neighbouring pooches considering moving in on the same patch.  Additionally, the increased frequency of urination could be the smaller dogs’ attempt to avoid physical contact, as their size places them at a greater disadvantage.  However, another explanation might be that all dogs attempt to urinate as high as possible, but smaller dogs are just more agile.  As a result, smaller dogs are better able to lift their rear legs.


High scent marking has been documented in other species including Pandas; first observed in 2004 performing handstands whilst urinating against tree trunks.

Whilst further examination of elimination marking in dogs is required, this latest research confirms what many owners have witnessed with their own four-legged friend…

…in fact, the Herculean peeing efforts of this chihuahua landed his owner $100,000 from America’s Funniest Videos (see below).  Whatever next!







McGuire, B., Olsen, B., Bemis, K. and Orantes, D. (2018). Urine marking in male domestic dogs: honest or dishonest?. Journal of Zoology.



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