Common Potty Behaviors

Common Potty Behaviors

In this post:

  1. Why does my dog kick up grass after peeing/pooping?
  2. Why does my dog lift his leg while peeing?
  3. Why does my dog not lift his leg while peeing?
  4. Why does my dog circle before going potty?


Dogs have some weird habits. To be fair, humans do too, but I get a lot of questions regarding the behaviors that dogs exhibit when “using the facilities.” For the most part, none of these habits are ones you need to be concerned about. But I’d like to remind you that if your dog is exhibiting a behavior that you’re concerned about, you should immediately consult your veterinarian. You know your dog better than anyone else, so if you’re seeing something new that is making you worried, it’s definitely time to make a phone call.

Why does my dog kick up grass after peeing/pooping?

You may notice that your dog does a funny kick with his hind legs after using the bathroom, causing dirt and grass to fly into the air. This behavior is actually quite normal.

A lot of dogs do this to cover up their mess. Kind of like us flushing the toilet. Leaving something like poop out in the wild could actually attract a predator, in this way the dog can kind of hide it to avoid someone bigger coming up and eating them.

Dogs learn about the world through scent and they usually choose their peeing spot to serve two purposes; to go to the bathroom and to mark territory. All dogs have glands in their feet that secrete pheromones, and a couple of backward scratches into the earth releases those chemicals claiming the spot as their own. It is all about who owns a particular patch of grass in the doggy world.

If you are worried about your dog destroying your yard, some bad news: This behavior can be almost automatic for some dogs and can be hard to break. I try to catch Truffle “in the act” and interrupt it when he starts.

Why does my dog lift his leg while peeing?

Dogs experience the world through their sense of smell. Their noses are so strong that they can pick a large amount of information from the smallest amount of scent. They can learn so much about the other animal who marked the spot before them such as the dog’s sex, what they are eating, whether or not they are healthy, if they are sexually mature, if they are in heat, and when they were at this spot. So they can learn everything about who “owns” this spot.

Now, being territorial, your dog wants to claim said spot so they pee over the pee. Dogs can tell who was at the spot and when so new pee trumps the old pee. So marking is just simply a way to say “Hey man, this belongs to me now!” 

And yes, girl dogs can lift their leg as well. 

Behaviorists believe that marking vertical objects serves several different purposes:

  1. Scents that are off the ground carry further in the wind. So their message can be spread far and wide.
  2. Scents that are up on a vertical object are also at another dog’s nose level. So it is right in the other dog’s face when the dog is walking by.
  3. Peeing up off the ground might make your dog seem larger to other dogs. So the higher the pee the bigger the dog might seem to another dog. We have all seen the little dogs lifting both their legs to really get their pee high up!

Why does my dog not lift his leg while peeing?

It is actually quite common for male dogs not to lift their leg when they are peeing. Especially if they are marking something that is lower to the ground.

Most male dogs learn to lift their legs sometime from 6 to 12 months of age. Young dogs learn to lift their leg by watching other dogs lift theirs. They also learn when they are trying to mark something that is vertical.

Fun fact: Truffle did not lift his leg until he was almost 2 years old. He learned the behavior by watching his best friend Gabe!

Some male dogs never learn this behavior and neutered dogs are more likely to squat to urinate than intact males. Don’t worry, your dog will learn in his own time if it is important to him. This is normal and does not make him less of a man in any way!

Why does my dog circle before going potty?

This may seem like a pointless exercise to you and may at times be annoying when you are in a hurry, but circling before using the bathroom actually, has a scientific explanation.  A study was conducted with 37 dog owners from Germany and the Czech Republic volunteered their 70 dogs and 7 puppies. The scientists observed and documented 7,475 discreet pooping and peeing events. The study concluded that dogs prefer to align their bodies in the North-South axis when magnetic field conditions are calm!

Other reasons could include:
  • Stomping down grass and weeds to have a nice spot to poop on.
  • Trying to spot any potential predators while pooping.
  • Your dog or puppy could be sniffing if anyone else has “marked” this spot.
  • Walking around can help the “waste” move down the gut.

All in all, this is a normal behavior for dogs. If your dog requires a little extra time to circle and find just the right spot, allow for the extra time needed. Avoid punishing or stressful interactions that can make this experience unpleasant and may have negative effects on your dog’s ability to eliminate.

Final Thoughts

Just like we have a preferred bathroom stall or really prefer to use the facilities at our own home, dogs are the same way. Be considerate of their habits (as long as they’re not destructive or dangerous) and let them be the individuals they are. For the most part, none of these habits are cause for concern, so you can continue to be amused as your dog kicks up grass or circles a spot five times before squatting. Just remember to contact your veterinarian if anything begins to worry you.

Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB
Aly DelaCoeur, UW-AAB is one of the founders of Wag Enabled (originally Why Does My Dog). Aly has a certificate in applied animal behavior through the University of Washington and is a certified veterinary assistant and AKC Evaluator. She aims to provide an unbiased perspective on dog training by providing practical, intelligent, and caring advice for people to impart on their canine companions