Tag Archives: behavior

What Do Your Dog’s Urination Rituals Really Mean?

An extensive study on canine scent marking published recently in the journal Animal Behaviour provides conclusive evidence dogs of both sexes compete for status through urination.

The characteristics by which canines judge one another’s position in the doggy hierarchy include the location chosen, angle of leg lift, height of the marking and quality of the urine.

Overmarking is when a dog pees on or near the mark left by another canine. Adjacent marking is when a dog urinates very close to, but not directly on, the mark of another dog. Both types are known as countermarking.

Putting to rest previous assumptions that overmarking is done exclusively by males to hide female urine marking, this study reveals both male and female dogs do it. And they do it to urine marks of either sex, not just marks left by the opposite sex. The dog’s status plays an important role in the tendency to countermark.

According to Anneke Lisberg, study co-author and a researcher in the Department of Biological Sciences at the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater:

“Although both sexes countermark, they do it a little differently: Males are more likely to overmark than females, and high-status males exposed to a place like a dog park are the energizer bunnies of marking. Males and females investigate urine, and the higher tailed dogs of both sexes urinate and countermark. But the males don’t stop after the first mark or second or third.”

(Dogs of either gender with high tail positions are assumed to be higher status dogs.)

Lower status dogs, more submissive than their higher ranking counterparts, often don’t do any countermarking at dog parks. Based on studies of other animals that urine-mark, it’s in fact risky for a submissive individual to even pretend to overmark. In the world of canines, it seems attempting to fake elevated status with countermarking is inviting trouble from higher ranking dogs who know the difference.

Dr. Lisberg explains how scent marking probably helps dogs relate to one another:

“Because these are signals that can be investigated from a safe distance, it may be that dogs are able to sort out a lot of their relationships through marks before they ever meet face to face. If they can sort out things chemically, it could help them make smarter decisions about whom to approach and how to approach them.”

Dr Becker’s Comments

All of you dog guardians out there know how much time your beloved pooch spends investigating pee, and peeing.

If you’ve paid attention to your pet’s urination rituals, you know he’s using his keen sense of smell to gather information. As he stops and sniffs and sniffs and sniffs, he’s picking up facts about all the other animals — in particular, canines — that have relieved themselves in the area.

Canine Scent Marking and Facebook

Unfortunately, despite how much time our canine companions spend in pee-related pursuits, very little is known about urinary communication among dogs. Anneke Lisberg and her colleague, Charles Snowdon, would seem to be research pioneers in the field of canine scent marking.

Their study suggests dogs of both sexes use a variety of different urination activities to:

  • Assert social status
  • Find potential mates
  • Size up unfamiliar dogs
  • Limit potentially threatening close contact during social introductions

Dr. Lisberg believes dogs may use urine investigation and scent marking in an attempt to establish safe social connections with other dogs. According to Discovery News, she thinks it is possible dogs “might be able to assess many personal aspects of health, stress, virility, diet” and more just by sniffing another dog’s urine.

Dr. Lisberg believes marking and countermarking could be the canine equivalent of Facebook. It allows dogs to easily gather information about one another’s personal lives, from a safe distance.

Another interesting if arguably unscientific viewpoint on canine scent marking comes from a 1944 novel by British philosopher and author Olaf Stapledon, titled Sirius: A Fantasy of Love and Discord.

Sirius is a sheep dog with human-level intelligence. He attends Cambridge University with his guardian, and among other scholarly activities, has plans to write a book called The Lamp-post, A Study of the Social Life of the Domestic Dog. The opening passage, as written by Sirius:

“In man, social intercourse has centered mainly on the process of absorbing fluid into the organism, but in the domestic dog and to a lesser extent among all wild canine species, the act charged with most social significance is the excretion of fluid. For man the pub, the estaminet, the Biergarten, but for the dog the tree trunk, the lintel of door or gate, and above all the lamppost, form the focal points of community life. For a man, the flavors of alcoholic drinks, but for a dog the infinitely variegated smells of urine are the most potent stimuli for the gregarious impulse.”

Scent Marking Behavior by Gender

In Dr. Lisberg’s experiment, she presented peed-upon, short wooden stakes to a group of dogs that included intact males and females, neutered males and spayed females.

She then observed and recorded the behavior of all 4 categories of dogs. Contrary to what you might expect, the females in the group spent just as much time investigating the urine of unfamiliar dogs as the males did. The males primarily investigated the urine of unfamiliar males, however, the females were equally interested in the urine of both sexes.

Dogs with the highest tail positions (assumed to be the highest status dogs) spent less time sniffing; dogs with low tail positions spent the most time at it.

As you might guess, dogs with high tail positions did the most overmarking. None of the females overmarked. Instead, they adjacent-marked from a distance of 4 to 5 feet. (Lisberg has done another study that suggests overmarking and adjacent marking are actually different responses with different motivations.)

At the Dog Park

Another experiment Dr. Lisberg performed was at a popular dog park. She set out to observe pee investigation, Ano-Genital (AG) investigation (butt sniffing) and peeing behavior at the entrance to the park. Some of her observations:

  • Male and female dogs were equally likely to urinate immediately upon entering the park. Males peed more frequently, however.
  • Male dogs already at the park overmarked or adjacent marked more than females. They also spent more time doing pee investigations of new dogs entering the park.
  • Dogs of both sexes with high tail positions marked and investigated more than dogs with low tail positions. And no female dog with a low tail position either peed upon entering the park, or countermarked those that did.
  • Ano-Genital sniffing was done more by dogs already in the park than those just entering. It was also done more frequently by dogs who appeared relaxed. There didn’t seem to be any relationship between AG sniffing and either the sex or status of the dogs.

Dogs entering the park were frequently quickly surrounded (for purposes of butt sniffing) by several dogs already at the park. If you’ve ever taken your dog to a dog park, you’re probably aware this is a potentially threatening situation for your dog as she enters the park (and often for you, as well).

Dr. Lisberg noted a consistent tendency of dogs getting the AG treatment to quickly move a few feet away and urinate. This caused the other dogs to sniff the urine rather than the new dog, which ended the potentially stressful physical contact. Lisberg speculates urine marking may be a way for dogs to reveal social information about themselves while avoiding the tension created by AG behavior by strangers.

Perhaps if more dogs were free to greet one another through the pee-and-sniff method vs. the butt sniff method, there would be fewer issues when leashed dogs are introduced to other leashed (or unleashed) dogs. Maybe our canine companions need the freedom to communicate information about themselves through urine, without the threat posed by close contact sniffing among strangers.

Food for thought!

 


Does Spaying or Neutering Your Pet Really Improve Behavior?

Dr. Sophia Yin
Veterinarian, applied animal behaviorist
Posted: August 31, 2009 03:13 PM
Sourced www.Huffington Post

As a veterinarian focused on animal behavior, I see all kinds of cases and field all kinds of questions. And unlike with regular medical problems, I know that the solution will, unfortunately, require some work and habit-changes on the part of the owners. So when I get a call or email asking, “Help! My male dog mounts every dog he meets and needs to mark every object in sight. What do I do?” I am almost overjoyed. While the owners could go through all kinds of elaborate training which would involve 100% supervision around all other dogs as well as objects the dog might urine mark, they could instead opt for the easy way out.

My first recommendation is “Get him neutered first and if the problem continues at all we can add a behavior modification plan.” The solution is so simple that I actually rarely have to make this recommendation. My veterinary colleagues out in general practice can make the recommendation themselves.

But this case raises two questions: What other behavioral issues can neutering help address, and what is the rate of success?

In general, it would be expected that spaying or neutering most likely affects sexually dimorphic behaviors — those that are more characteristic for one gender or the other. This is exactly what a 1997 study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis, Veterinary Medical Teaching Hospital found.

Misbehaving Males

This study evaluated how neutering adult male dogs affected such problem behaviors as urine marking in the house, mounting, roaming, fear of inanimate stimuli as well as aggression toward family members, strangers, household dogs, unfamiliar dogs and human territorial intruders.

Fifty-seven dogs that had exhibited one or more of these problems before being castrated at 2 to 7 years of age were included in the study. Follow-up revealed that castration was most effective at reducing:
• urine marking
• mounting
• roaming

The decrease was marked
• 90% decrease of these behaviors in 40% of the study dogs
• 50% decrease of the remaining 60% of the study dogs

No relationship existed between the effect of neutering and the age of the dog or duration of the problem behavior before castration.

Neutering also affected aggression toward canine and human family members but to a lesser extent and in fewer dogs 25% of the study dogs improving by more than 50%.

Surprisingly, 10% to 15% of dogs showed less aggression toward unfamiliar dogs and territorial intruders. Therefore, neutering can likely provide marked improvement for many dogs that are exhibiting marking, roaming or mounting behavior and may offer some improvement in dogs that are aggressive toward people and other dogs. Neutering seems to be less successful in reducing other types of aggression, although improvement is possible.

For Cats the Story May Be Even More Promising
With cats the relationship between neutering and behavior is even stronger.

“Regarding behaviors that are more specific to male animals, castration seems to be more effective [in modifying behavior problems] in cats than in dogs,” says Melissa Bain, DVM, assistant professor of clinical animal behavior at UC Davis.

A study conducted at UC Davis in the 1990s found that in 90% of male cats, castration greatly reduces or eliminates
• urine spraying
• roaming
• fighting with neighborhood males

Fifty percent of the cats showed a dramatic decrease (80% decrease) in the spraying, roaming and fighting decreased in the first week, although the remaining study cats demonstrated a more gradual decline.

For Females the Effects May be Different

The study results for male dogs and cats make the course of action clear. But for female dogs, the findings on the effects of spaying on behavior, at least of German Shepherd dogs bred for military work were unexpected.

According to Katherine Houpt, VMD, PhD, DACVB, former director of the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University Hospital for Animals, spaying may actually contribute to behavioral problems. In a cooperative study with the Institute of Animal Medicine at Gyeongsang National University in Korea, Houpt and her colleagues found that ovariohysterectomy (spay) in healthy German Shepherds bred as working dogs led to increased reactivity.

In the study, 14 healthy German Shepherd bitches at the Korean Air Force Dog Training Center were studied. Half of the study dogs were spayed at 5 to 10 months of age, and the other half were intact. The dogs were littermates and were split equally into both groups to control for genetics. The dogs all lived in the same kennel environment and received similar handling. Their behavioral reactions were tested at 4 and 5 months after surgery.

Each dog was tested separately in its outdoor kennel while the rest of the dogs remained indoors. An unfamiliar human with an unknown dog walked within 1 meter of the target dog’s kennel, and the kenneled German shepherd’s response was recorded.

In each of four different recordings for each dog, researchers recorded
• barking or growling
• lunging
• jumping
• snapping
• head high
• ears forward
• eyes staring
• lips lifting or curling.

Dogs were scored as follows
• Score of 3 if they exhibited all 10 behaviors
• Score of 2 if they exhibited 7 of 10 behaviors
• Score of 1 if they exhibited 5 of 10 behaviors
• Score of 0 if they exhibited less than 4 of the behaviors

“Ideally we would have scored the dogs before they were spayed, too,” says Houpt. “Regardless, the results were dramatic. Dogs that had been spayed were significantly more reactive, with most receiving scores of 2 and 3, whereas the unspayed littermates received reactivity scores of 1.”

These scores decreased in two of the seven experimental dogs on repeat testing, but by the final testing phase, five of the seven dogs still received a score of 2 or higher.

Houpt, she emphasizes that military dogs would be expected to exhibit more aggressive behaviors and such behavior on command may be desirable. These dogs would not, however, be appropriate as pet or guide dogs or for pet therapy.

From my perspective the findings in this specific population of working dogs suggests the differences might not be as dramatic in dogs that weren’t bred for high arousal and this type of dog should also be tested. Although the study was small, Houpt suggests that veterinarians should consider performing a hysterectomy rather than an ovariohysterectomy for preventive health reasons in aggressive pet female dogs.

Such decisions on whether to perform surgery or not should be made with all the facts in hand since failure to remove the ovaries can increase the incidence of mammary cancer. Female dogs spayed after their second heat have a 26% higher risk of developing mammary cancer than those spayed before their first heat.

References

1. Neilson JC, Eckstein RA, Hart BL. Effects of castration on problem behaviors in male dogs with reference to age and duration of behavior. JAVMA 1997;211(2):180-183.

2. Hart BL, Eckstein RA. The role of gonadal hormones in the occurrence of objectionable behaviours in dogs and cats. Appl Anim Behav Sci 1997;52:331-344.

3. Im HH, Yeon SC, Houpt KA, et al. Effects of ovariohysterectomy on reactivity in German shepherd dogs. Vet J 2006;172(1):154-159.

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