Why does my female dog lift her leg to pee?

I thought that having female dogs meant I didn’t have to deal with marking. Males hike their legs and pee to mark their territory, but girls don’t, the conventional wisdom goes.

The first time I saw my female lift her leg to pee, I was confused. Had I mistaken her gender? No, although I did double check in my confusion. She was a female after all, and she had just performed what I was sure was a male behavior. Why? 

Why does my female dog lift her leg to pee?

If you’ve noticed your female dog lifting her leg to pee, you may be as confused as I found myself. You may even be worried. I did some research, and found out that females raising their leg to pee isn’t all that uncommon. 

Matter of Preference

First, let’s clear up the gender question. All dogs squat to pee as puppies, male and female. As they get older, females continue to squat, while males begin lifting their leg. 

At least, that’s what usually happens. It turns out that some girls like lifting their leg to pee, and some males prefer to squat. 

They may also change the way they pee based on their mood, the situation, or the purpose of the pee. So, if your female lifts her leg to pee sometimes, you don’t have to feel shocked. Now you know that it’s not as strange as it appears to be. 

Urine Marking

One of the reasons dogs urinate is to mark their territory. The other reason is, of course, the elimination of waste. You may be surprised to know that these two purposes are completely different types of urination for your pooch. 

Generally, a dog who is marking will only release a small amount of urine. When they are peeing for the sake of peeing, they will hold back a small amount. This can then be used for marking. 

If you’ve ever wondered how a dog can mark seemingly unendingly, that’s how. They can release as small as a few drops of urine when marking. The small volume allows them to mark several areas in a short time frame. 

Both male and females mark, although males mark more often. Both genders also tend to mark on vertical surfaces. When peeing for elimination, they will pee on a  horizontal surface, or simply the ground. 

They can mark on horizontal surfaces as well, but it’s more common for them to mark on a vertical surface. 

Why Do Dogs Mark? 

The main reason dogs mark is to claim territory. This includes your home, as well as your possessions. They may mark their toys, areas of the home, and even your leg. This is essentially their way of saying, “This is mine”. 

However, that’s far from the only reason dogs mark. They can communicate a surprising amount of information through marking. This includes their gender, maturity, and even their health status. 

Dogs have a hierarchal structure. Typically, a pack or group of dogs will have an alpha, or an alpha male and female, depending on the group size.

Next are beta dogs. These dogs are subservient to the alphas only. Last come the omegas. These dogs are at the bottom of the ladder, and are subservient to both the alpha and betas. Urine marking also reveals the dog’s hierarchal status.   

Lastly, a female in heat will mark to signal her sexual readiness. She will begin marking as her heat cycle begins. When she is ready for mating, marking may increase. This is her way of calling the local males. Think of it as the dog equivalent of a number on a bathroom stall, or a tinder profile. 

Little Dog Syndrome

So we know why dogs mark in general, but what makes a female mark by lifting her leg? One theory is that it’s because the dog is small. The higher up a dog pees, the larger they are. 

So, small females may raise their leg and pee as high as possible, so they appear bigger than they actually are. The smaller a dog is, the more vulnerable it is. It’s no surprise that tiny dogs want to appear larger. It helps them to feel safer, and perhaps keeps other dogs from taking advantage of their small stature. 

It turns out that the smallest female dogs are actually the most likely to raise their leg when peeing. Perhaps size does matter, in this instance. 

Stress or Anxiety

Another reason your pooch may be lifting her leg when peeing is stress or anxiety. If your dog is stressed, appearing bigger may make them feel calmer or more secure.

Have you ever been anxious and puffed out your chest? Perhaps you stood taller, and squared your shoulders. It’s a natural instinct to want to appear larger than you actually are, especially when you are anxious. 

It’s seen throughout nature. The pufferfish is an excellent example. When calm, the pufferfish is a small creature. When startled by a predator, they suck in water, blowing themselves up like a balloon. 

They are suddenly much more intimidating and harder to eat. The predator will typically leave them alone, losing interest when the pufferfish is no longer an easy target.  

Vertical Surfaces

There’s a reason why dogs love to pee on vertical surfaces. It can be quite frustrating for you when your dog decides to pee on a vertical surface in your home, like your couch or your favorite chair. 

However, vertical marking serves an important purpose for dogs. It allows them to cover a larger surface area, which creates a stronger scent. When a dog pees on a horizontal surface, much of the pee is splashed away from the initial impact zone. 

This makes a small area of concentrated pee. When marking on a vertical surface, the pee runs down the surface. This greater surface area sends a clearer, bigger message than a smaller area. 

Of course, it’s not impossible to pee on a vertical surface by squatting, but it’s certainly more difficult. When a female wants to leave her vertical mark, it makes sense she would lift her leg.

Hormonal Swap

We know that humans are sometimes androgynous, displaying both male and female characteristics. You may be surprised to know that this also occurs in other mammals, including dogs. 

When there are more males than females in a litter, it’s possible for the females to receive excess androgen. Both males and females have androgens, but in far different amounts. Male dogs are naturally exposed to much more androgen than females, and continue to create the hormones in a greater amount throughout their lives. 

When females are exposed to high androgen levels in the womb, they can pick up male characteristics and behaviors, including leg lifting. If your female seems to be more masculine than feminine, this might be the answer. 

Pee Positions

There are a total of twelve common pee positions. However, there are some positions that are more common than others.

Lean

The body is leaning forward and the hind legs are extended to the back. This is the most common pose for young males. It’s sometimes seen in females as well, as an alternative to the squat position. 

Squat

This is the most common female dog position when peeing. It is where the dog looks like it is sitting down with its but slightly raised from the floor.

Squat-Raise

A combination of the Squat and Raise postures.  The dog will squat and raise one back leg at the same time. This is the most common female raise position. However, males will occasionally pee in this position as well. 

Elevate

One hind leg is bent and raised off the ground. The foot and leg is held high. This is the most common position for sexually mature males.

Raise

This is similar to the elevate position. Instead of one hind leg being lifted high, it’s kept low.  

Lean-Raise

 A combination of the Lean and Raise postures. The dog leans their body forward, extending their back legs. They then raise one hind leg off the ground, but keep it low. 

The Handstand

This is my personal favorite. In this position, both back feet are lifted off the ground. They can be either unsupported in the air, or on a vertical surface. 

Should I be concerned if my female dog lifts her leg to pee?

Generally, no, you shouldn’t be concerned if your female dog lifts her leg to pee. It’s possible that she simply finds the position more comfortable, or that she feels the need to mark her territory. 

However, there are some other changes you should be on the lookout for. 

Changes in Urination

Your girl lifting her leg to pee isnt’ a cause for concern. However, if she is also exhibiting other changes in urination, it’s time to worry. This includes straining or whining when urinating, an increase or decrease in volume, and accidents. 

These signs can indicate a medical or behavioral concern that needs to be addressed. If you notice these symptoms, make an appointment with your vet. 

Changes in Behavior

 The other sign that something may be amiss is other changes in behavior. If your pooch is peeing with her leg lifted, there’s a possibility stress or anxiety are the reason. In this case, you’ll need to determine the cause of the stress. You can then make accommodations to remove or at least manage the issue. 

The most common cause of stress for dogs is changes to their household or routine. This can include a new pet or family member, someone leaving the home, and even a change in your work schedule. 

What to do if my female dog lifts her leg to pee?

Lifting their leg to pee might be normal, but that doesn’t mean it’s desirable for them to do so. You actually have some control over how your dog pees, regardless of whether they are male or female. 

Avoiding Leg Lifting

The easiest way to avoid them lifting their leg to pee is to keep them away from tempting vertical surfaces. If they don’t have a vertical surface to pee on, they won’t lift their leg. 

 Excessive Marking

If your precious pooch seems obsessed with marking, it can make walks difficult. Some dogs seem to stop every few seconds to mark a new tree or bush. 

Allow her to mark at the beginning and end of the walk. During your walk, try to keep her moving. If she stops, use the command “leave it”, or call her to you. If she responds, praise her and give her a treat before continuing. 

Keeping Clean

Females have different equipment than males, which makes lifting their leg a messier prospect. If your female lifts her leg to pee, be prepared to assist with the clean up. 

Doggie wipes are an excellent way to keep her coat fresh and clean. Simply wipe her down after she does her business.