Myth: Peeing on Your Dog

Since I’ve worked as a professional trainer for years, I’ve heard it all. Most myths about dog behavior are silly and relatively harmless. That said, there’s one myth that’s resurfaced in the past couple months which has me shaking my head in bewilderment. Multiple clients have admitted to spitting in their dog’s food, peeing on their dog’s head, or otherwise using their own or their children’s bodily fluids with the intent of putting their dog in his or her place (which is implied to be “below” the human in a rigid hierarchy).

Spit-free kibble. Photo by BuzzFarmers on flickr.

Spit-free kibble (we hope). Photo by BuzzFarmers on flickr.

It can be hard to separate scientific fact from fiction for someone for whom dog behavior is a mystery, and I can empathize with my clients’ confusion. In each case, a trusted friend, family member, or even pet professional had recommended this course of action. In each case, my client was at a loss as to how to deal with his or her dog’s problematic behavior. While I wish that these clients had contacted me first, rather than after they had tried this technique (and in most cases, other recommendations from coworkers or neighbors as well), their hope was that following this advice would save them the cost of a private consultation with a trained professional.

The old adage of “you get what you pay for” springs to mind here. Free advice can be helpful, but for serious behavioral problems where the risk of failure could mean that a person gets bitten or your dog winds up homeless or dead, the stakes are just too high. Practice makes perfect, after all, and the longer a dog has the opportunity to practice the problem behavior, the worse the prognosis becomes. My clients and I have the most success when I can begin working with them at the first sign of a problem, rather than after months or even years of them attempting to solve the problem on their own.

So, why isn’t it a good idea to spit in your dog’s food or pee on his head to “show him who’s boss?”

The core idea behind this advice is to elevate the owner’s status, based on the belief that dogs adhere to a rigid dominance hierarchy. However, this myth has been disproven over and over again. Wolves do have hierarchies, but they’re based on family arrangements with the mother and father leading the pack of children. Based on this knowledge, it only makes sense to spit in your dog’s food or pee on his head if that’s what you would do to your [human] toddler when he misbehaves. Good parents – and good dog owners! – know that parenting is all about providing a safe environment for growth, with lots of patience, clear rules, and love.

Knowing that wolves form family packs greatly impacts our view of their communication and dominance hierarchies. However, drawing conclusions about dog behavior based on the behavior of their closely related cousins can be as erroneous as studying human behavior by observing chimps or bonobos. Yes, we share similarities. However, we’re not the same species. Dogs and wolves evolved from the same ancestor, but it’s likely that wolves have changed greatly from what they were tens of thousands of years ago. Studies of dogs in their native environment (village dumps) show that while wolves form close family packs, dogs do not. Mothers and puppies stick together, and dogs will develop friendships with other dogs, but the close-knit pack structure is just not there. This means that even if wolves did develop rigid pack structures that required forceful dominance displays, it would be inappropriate to extrapolate those behaviors to their cousins.

Even if all of this weren’t true, there’s still a major flaw in the idea of using bodily fluids to assert one’s dominance. Sure, it grosses us out to think about someone peeing on our head or spitting in our food. But does it really have the same impact on our dogs? Frankly, dogs love bodily fluids! When Layla lifts her leg and pees on another dog’s head (which she does on a fairly regular basis), the other dog never acts grossed out. Dogs lick one another’s mouths and eat vomit on a regular basis. They use their tongues to clean their genitals and lick at other dog’s urine. Some even eat poop (and many experts believe that human fecal matter may have been the main source of nutrition for early village dogs). We may think body fluids are gross, but dogs think they’re pretty fascinating.

The bottom line is that peeing on your dog, dumping the contents of your child’s dirty diaper on your dog, or spitting in her food is unlikely to create the behavior change you want. In the best case scenario, your dog’s behavior may be slightly suppressed due to her confusion. Worst case, you could scare your dog, damaging your relationship further, or unintentionally reward her problem behavior by providing her with something she finds fascinating or delicious. Either way, true behavioral change is unlikely, and you’re far better off consulting with a trained professional. As an added bonus, just think of how much money you’ll save on dog shampoo!

15 responses to “Myth: Peeing on Your Dog

  1. Well I have never heard that one! We can’t seem to get away from “dogs were once wolves and therefore the same” type theories. I know this is over simplifying things, but if people paid more attention to their dogs, I think they would have less problems.

  2. You have GOT to be kidding me! That is just sick! It’s no wonder I prefer dogs over people …….. just sayin.

  3. I’ve never heard that. . Pee on my dogs head. Really? Nothing does surprise me these days. However, I’m with Susan. It’s no wonder I prefer dogs to people.

  4. In defence of following bizarre advice, sometimes it actually comes from a trained professional, not all dog trainer use the same method even if they share a similar basic philosophy. I’m not advocating peeing on your dog just sympathising with those who have often spent a fortune on “trained professionals” in trying to understand their dog and solve behaviours

  5. Sounds like a confluence of too much testosterone and poor housebreaking habits. Where do people come up with this????

    Hope Stewart
    Sr. Administrative Secretary
    Department of Geology and Geography
    West Virginia University

  6. What the…

    When I was a little kid, I would “regurgitate” food for my dog (stand on all fours, call her over while I chewed up some food, and spit it out for her).
    (fyi – early Crazy Dog Lady warning sign, parents!)
    It had nothing to do with dominance, though. I was just pretending to be Mommy Wolf. (Hey, better than most kids who try to dress their dogs up and have them act as humans!)

    This, though, I just… I really think some of the really wacky dominance crowd might be cured if their, uh, drive could be redirected in an apropriate manner, such as the bedroom.

  7. Why did one of my dogs pee on a recently deceased dog that was also part of the pack? The deceased dog had submitted to the other, the pisser establishing his place as alpha long before his death. So, what was the point?

  8. My dog has only peed on other dogs by accident-when he was peeing on a bush, and the other dog leaned in to excitedly sniff. And he’s gotten himself peed on in the same way. There was no evidence of any hierarchy-building going on, just curiosity and friendliness.
    I would say that if someone thinks they need to pee on their dog to achieve dominance-that person is probably at the end of his rope and desperate. Perhaps see a professional BEFORE you reach that stage.

  9. I don’t think this is a myth, and here’s why… My wife and I bought a home a couple months ago and the sellers had four dogs living in the house. Before we moved in I had the carpets professionally cleaned in hopes this would remove most of the smells, but apparently it didn’t help. When we moved in my three year old male German Shepherd dog started urinating all over the place when we were gone. He only did this when we were gone and not when we were home. We’ve had him for two and a half years and he had never done this before in the previous home we lived in. We had been trying a few different methods for several weeks but they weren’t working.

    First we tried putting his nose near the spot and smacking him, telling him no. We did this consistently for the first several instances but it clearly wasn’t working. Each spot that he urinated in was cleaned the best I could with deodorizing pet carpet cleaning solution.

    Second we tried the same thing but in addition, tying him up next to the spot for 30 minutes under supervision but with no eye contact and not talking to him. He whined and complained a lot so we thought it was working, but he continued to urinate in places when we were gone.

    Third we tried the first two things plus we immediately put him in our utility/laundry room and he lived in there for 24 hours and we left him in there when we left the house. We would then try leaving him out after 72 hours of this and then would finally let him out and have free roam when we left as well… but he continued to urinate while we were out.

    Finally after a few weeks of dealing with this I decided to try urinated on him. So when we got home and I found his spot I put his nose where he urinated, smacked him and told him no as usual. I then immediately took him out in the back yard. I held him down with my foot on his neck so he couldn’t get away and then urinated on his face. He struggled and tried to get away but couldn’t. I then tied him up to the spot so he could smell my urine for an hour. I then got the hose and cleaned him off, shampooed him and got him cleaned up and dried off and let him in the house.

    Since then, he has not urinated in the house and it has been nearly two weeks. So while this method is indeed disgusting (and I had to shower after doing it), i’m willing to admit it has worked on my dog. I doubt this would work on all dogs, but it might with some. So no, I don’t think this is a myth.

    By the way it is very easy for me to check for urine spots. So I know with 100% confidence that I found all his spots. How I did this is with a thermal imaging camera. Thermal cameras detect and display differences in temperature. I have one of these thermal cameras for my smart phone and wet spots show up very easily because they are colder than the dry carpet. I can find wet spots in my entire house in less than five minutes using the camera. Not all wet spots are urine though, so unfortunately you have to do the smell test. Urine has an extremely strong odor to it not to mention leaves a yellow stain on the carpet. In total my dog urinated in 17 different locations in my house, including on one of my old couches! I’m not sure why he would mark something we own that doesn’t have other pet smells on it, perhaps it was out of spite. But if you need a method for easily finding urine spots I recommend a thermal camera. I bought mine from a company called Seek Thermal for $200. Best money I’ve ever spent and it has certainly paid for itself.

    • I don’t even know what to say? I don’t think you dog stopped urinating Because of this action,I think it was Coincidence. But I would say without a doubt that you should not own a dog cause you are HORRIBLE at obedience and have admitted to abusing you dog! Any dog owner knows when a dog pee’s or poop’s in the house you DON’T punish them. You don’t rub their nose in it, and you don’t hit them. They are dogs, this only tells the dog that they need to Hide from you to “do their business”. Then you have a tougher time getting them house broken. You ALWAYS use rewards….when your dogs does his business outside, reward him. I feel bad for you dog, you told us a tale of pretty bad mistreatment on your behalf. I seriously hope you and your wife don’t have kids! :(

      • Well it certainly could be a coincidence but there were no other events that I can think of that would have affected my dog around that time. I went about my methods in a rather scientific fashion, and nothing else was going on so I am very confident that did the trick. Also keep in mind as well he wasn’t a puppy at the time (he was four years of age), and was already trained not to go in the house. He isn’t stupid, he knows he isn’t to do that but i’m sure as you know some dogs are very territorial, and in particular German Shepherds. There were four dogs and two cats living in the house we bought, all of which was new to my dog. He was likely trying to establish his territorial instinct and didn’t realize it was unacceptable behavior because he didn’t know it was my territory. I believe this method let him know that the house was my territory, which is why he immediately stopped urinating in the house.

        I would like to know what you find about my attempts to be “HORRIBLE” and how I have abused my dogs. Considering the little information I gave you sure seem to have a strong opinion here.

  10. ^whoa. lol cool story, bro.

  11. it works on cats aswell – there harder to get tho cause there a smaller target and have a fast sprint. Dogs on chains are the best cause its like a captivated audience. One thing you notice after you pee on a dog is all the other dogs start cocking there leg and squirting them giving them a golden shower. Its actually quite funny to watch.

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