In a recent study published in the Journal of Zoology, researchers found that small dogs may urinate higher on lamps, walls and hydrants when marking their territory to seem more intimidating. Scientists think small dogs may feel a little self-conscious about their size and that short dog syndrome may lead them to overcompensate a little when it’s time to use the hydrant. Male dogs spray urine as ‘scent marker’ for others to know about their age, health, sex and size.
The researchers from Cornell University worked with animal shelters to test their short dog syndrome theory. They took dogs of all sizes for walks, filming them as they urinated on vertical surfaces – trees, posts, walls and so on. They then calculated the angle that each dog raised its leg as a stand-in for the height of their urine stream. They found that, relative to their size, small dogs lifted their legs much higher than their larger counterparts. “Assuming body size is a proxy for competitive ability, small adult male dogs place urine marks higher, relative to their own body size, than larger adult male dogs to exaggerate their competitive ability,” the researchers wrote in their study.
“Our findings support raised-leg angle as a proxy for urine mark height and provide additional evidence that scent marking can be dishonest,” researchers wrote. “Small males seemed to make an extra effort to raise their leg high, some small males would almost topple over,” said Betty McGuire, who led the study. The team believes the move may be to try and avoid confrontation with larger dogs.
“Direct social interactions with other dogs may be particularly risky for small dogs,” says McGuire. This risk may be why small dogs seem to prefer scent marking, doing so more often than large dogs. It allows them to establish a presence without interacting with competitors directly.