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Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Ask the Dog Trainer About Leg Lifting

Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA
courtesy ChrisCosta77 via
Normal or Unacceptable?

Dear Michael,  I recently adopted a new pooch from the shelter. He's a completely wonderful addition to our household. I have absolutely no complaints about his behavior. It has surprised us that someone actually gave him up. 

My husband and I have had Chex for 6 or 7 months, long enough to know he's a keeper. There is one behavior I would like to eliminate, although it is probably not unacceptable, as it only occurs outdoors. I'm hoping you can offer some tips.

When we are out walking, Chex seems to want to mark frequently, every upright item he passes--mailboxes, signs, blades of grass, you name it. 

I could use some strategies for eliminating this habit if you don't think he is too old to learn a new behavior; we think he is about 7 years old, although he still has tons of puppy energy at playtime. He is bright and eager to learn new tricks, so I believe he could reverse this behavior if I knew how to stop it. I hope you can help.

Thanks, Mary Rose
Dear Mary Rose,

Dogs who lift their legs and mark are special.  Not all dogs can do it.  It’s a more likely behavior in male dogs, even male dogs who have been neutered.  But some female dogs do it too.  It seems odd to us, and perhaps even a bit annoying.  But for our dogs, it’s a social thing, a way to share information and learn about other dogs who’ve passed by all the favorite spots before them.  We dog folk affectionately refer to it these days as pee-mail.

Urine marking is usually only a problem when our dogs are doing it in the wrong spot.  For those cases we recommend a simple routine of remedial potty training:  supervise, confine, and reinforce going in the right spot.  But, it doesn’t seem like you’re having any trouble with that.  Chex is going where he’s supposed to.

For some folks, the marking can be annoying if it interrupts walks and leads to pulling on leash.  In those cases I recommend people teach their dogs to walk along for a bit, and then reward them with praise, food and a chance to sniff and, well… you know.  But it sounds like you and Chex have struck up a deal to keep the walks moving along nicely.  So, there’s no problem there.

So, what is the problem exactly?  It sounds like Chex, when given the chance, enjoys leaving his mark.  He’s a social butterfly.  He’s the guy at the party handing out his business card to everyone – except his business card is his business if you catch my meaning.  Every post is his hitching post.  He’s a gold medalist on the 3-legged balance beam.  Not a drop left?  Who care’s he just loves to strike the pose, right?  It’s not about the walk it’s about the hike.  (Get it?)

Okay, I’ll stop. I just wanted you to know, I understand.  I live with that dog too.  It’s normal.  And with the right sense of humor, it’s perhaps even a bit endearing.

My expert opinion?  He knows the right places (outside not inside).  And he seems to be enjoying the moment.  So, let’s just let it go – and let him go.  No foul (well maybe a little).  But, definitely no harm.

Used with permission from
Robyn Arouty Photography
Houston Dog Trainer Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA specializes in behavior related to fear and aggression.  He lives with two dogs: Stella and Stewie.

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FANCY the Red Standard Poodle said...

Hi Y'all!

My Humans usually joke when I "run dry" and give me some water from the water bottle they carry for me on our hikes (replenishment). However, when we're traveling and take a "business walk" on leash and I want to stop at a trash can or post in an inappropriate spot my Human gives a tug on the leash, just enough to pull all 100 lbs of me off balance and says, "not there" and we hurry to an area where I can relieve myself.

Y'all come by now,
Hawk aka BrownDog

Dawn said...

Its just a doggy thing. I agree to just let them do it when it is not inappropriate. Then follow Hawk's advice when it is inappropriate.

Kimberly Gauthier, Dog Nutrition Blogger for Keep the Tail Wagging said...

Great explanation! Rodrigo does a lot of marking and I've learned to do what was suggested in this post - we walk a bit and then I reward by allowing him a moment to sniff, investigate and mark. Then we walk a bit.

It can be annoying, because of the pulling, but we have a good system down so now we both enjoy the walks.

BTW, Sydney marks too; but she doesn't lift her leg.

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