Why in the World is My Dog Lifting its Leg?

Pet Care


June 22, 2020

When you hear about a dog lifting its leg, you immediately think of two possibilities: either a hand-shake or pee. And while a urinating canine is one of the most common reasons for a hind leg lifting, it’s not the only reason.

If you haven’t trained your dog to shake hands, and they’re lifting their leg for seemingly no reason, we’re here to help you solve this mystery. Today we’ll be taking a look at the motivations behind an elevated leg and what you can do about it. 

Why a Dog Lifts its Leg to Pee

It’s normal to get a little nervous when you see your dog’s back leg start to move upwards, especially indoors. Most of us recognize this movement to mean one thing: the floodgates of a canine bladder are about to be opened. And this is usually true. Basic dog anatomy requires this, but not for the reason you may think.

Most people assume that dogs raise their hind legs to avoid soiling on themselves. This is not actually true. In fact, most young puppies don’t lift their leg to urinate at all. It’s a learned behavior as they grow into adulthood. Additionally, male and female dogs have slightly different behaviors when relieving themselves.

The real reason a dog hikes its hind leg to pee is not to avoid self-splattering, but to mark its territory more effectively. For dogs, it’s not only about emptying their bladder, but also staking their claim on a certain area. Lifting their leg helps them to get a better angle on the intended target. Especially if a dog picks up the scent of another dog, they will sometimes make a strong effort to cover over the other scent with their own. This is their way of saying, “This is now my spot, sorry!”

So don’t get too upset the next time you see your pooch peeing on that lounge chair – they’re simply acknowledging that you’re family. 

Bow Chicka Bow Wow

There’s an element of territorial dominance here for sure. However, that’s not the only reason. The other motive for the scent is good old-fashioned hormones and sex. By placing their fragrance in the area, your dog is also signaling their availability (if you know what we mean). This is not a subtle gesture either, as most breeds of dog can detect a scent from over a thousand miles away!

What’s interesting about this behavior is that spayed and neutered dogs will still mark their territory sometimes years beyond the surgery. There is no consensus as to why. 

To Lift or Not To Lift

Not all dogs will naturally lift their legs during bladder evacuation. As you might expect, the tactics of tinkling are as personal for dogs as they are for us humans. We’ve already mentioned how most puppies tend to squat with all fours firmly on the ground until they naturally grow out of it. Some pups never grow out of this behavior, though, and you may be wondering if that’s bad.

The answer to this question is not exactly cut and dry. For the most part, we can say, “Usually not, but sometimes yes.” Simply put, some dogs just won’t care to lift their leg during urination, and there is nothing wrong with that. 

The warning sign comes in when a dog that typically lifts its leg suddenly stops doing so. This could be a sign of injury or some other kind of discomfort that needs your attention. You can also look for certain changes in the gait of your pooch during walking, to see if they’re favoring a particular leg. This is another indication of pain or weakness. Let your veterinarian know if you notice any of these warning signs. 

A Dog in Heat Will Compete

If your dog is of the female persuasion, your little lady may randomly start lifting her leg all over your home. This does not necessarily indicate a problem, but rather that she’s in heat. When a canine female is undergoing heat, her hormones will be in overdrive, and she may start trying to mark everything in sight. This is her trying to counter every other scent in the home because she wants to be noticed by male dogs.

You can try to train her out of this behavior with more housebreaking, but the one surefire way to stop the spraying is by spaying. Having your dog spayed may not entirely stop her from marking territory, but it will curb her out of control hormones. This will prevent her from wanting to dominate every scent in your home. 

It May Be Time For a Checkup

The final reason for a dog lifting its leg might have nothing to do with a golden sprinkle at all. Your canine companion may be protecting themselves from pain. The range of causes for this can be immense, and a professional examination is in order here. We can, however, list some of the more common things to look for. 

  • Leg pain 

If your normally playful pal is suddenly treating their leg with care and lifting it off the ground, pain might be the reason. This pain could be caused by a broken leg, sprained paw, splinter, or infection. You can try to look for some visible signs on the leg (gently) to get a better idea of what’s going on. Your veterinarian will be able to conduct a more thorough examination. 

  • General weakness 

Leg weakness may be a bit harder to diagnose. More often found in older dogs, a certain leg may be weaker without necessarily being painful. This would cause your dog to want to avoid putting weight on the weak leg for instability reasons. Typical causes of this include disc disease or neurological issues. 

  • Anxiety 

Yes, your dog can suffer from anxiety or stress. One of the signs of this is they may lift a leg slightly. This behavior is usually accompanied by a tucked tail and a drooping head. If you see these signs in your pup, try calming them sound and reassuring them. They may simply be nervous or scared. 

  • Hunger 

This is another one that is typically an easy fix. Sometimes a dog will lift a paw to indicate hunger, especially if they smell or see food. If your dog has a case of the tummy rumbles, they may lift a paw if they spot you with a plate of chicken wings. A little whimper or growl may accompany that paw raise, as they try to get your attention. 

The Bottom Line on Your Leg Lifting Canine

The takeaway here is to keep a close eye on the habits of your precocious pup to see why they are lifting their leg, and how often. It could be something as simple as a mood gesture, or it might be something more serious. As with most things, knowing is half the battle, and even for more sober issues, early diagnosis is better.

With some attention and careful examination, you will be able to get to the bottom of the leg hiking mystery. You’ll also understand your furry friend just a bit more, and they’ll be glad you took the time to help them out.