Maybe size does matter among dogs.
We all know dogs can communicate through scent when they urinate. They leave messages about themselves for other dogs to read, known in some circles as pee-mail. We also know that some male dogs lift their legs in order to pee higher.
But new research from Cornell University found that smaller dogs lift their legs at an even higher angle than larger dogs, perhaps to make themselves appear larger.
“Our findings... provide additional evidence that scent marking can be dishonest,” the authors said in the study published recently in the Journal of Zoology.
The researchers first had to establish that the angle a dog raised its leg is a good stand-in for how high the pee goes.
They took a bunch of shelter dogs for walks and filmed them peeing with an iPhone, and in some cases, a high-speed camera. And yes, based on their analysis, how high the dog raised its leg could predict how high the pee would go—as could the dog’s mass and height.
Then, they analyzed how a dog’s size compared to how much it lifted its leg. Both lighter and shorter dogs lifted their legs to higher angles than larger dogs. The little dogs seemed to be trying to leave a pee signature of a larger dog.
Thus, even though height of urine mark does reflect size of signaler in part, small dogs seem to “cheat” by using larger raised-leg angles to deposit higher urine marks, thereby exaggerating their size.
The researchers point out that it could benefit dogs to exaggerate their size and power to avoid conflict with other dogs. The study also adds to research supporting that smaller dogs and larger dogs behave differently.
The researchers admit that the study has its limits and other possible interpretations. Maybe big dogs just can’t lift their legs as high as small dogs can, for example. And it would be up to future research to determine how dogs react to different scent mark heights.
I think the surprising thing about this research is that scientists from a prestigious Ivy League American university are studying dogs peeing and publishing the results in a scientific journal.