You may have heard the term “pee mail,” but I like to think of pee as dogs’ social media, a “dogbook,” if you will. Dogs can “tag” where they have been, “like” another dog’s pee, and learn vast amounts of personal, or I guess “dogal” information about their canine neighbors.
With a quick sniff of fresh or dried urine, your pup can tell another dog’s gender, if they are spayed or neutered, their age, health status, stress level and diet.
You may be wondering, how are dogs able to sniff out this vast amount of information? It turns out, dogs are good chemists, in addition to being good smellers.
A dog’s urine contains dissolved hormonal chemicals, known as pheromones, that provide the clues. Dogs use their 300 million olfactory receptors (compared to a human’s 6 million) to detect the information. In addition, their vomeronasal organ (an organ located above the roof of the mouth that people do not have) helps trap the scents they pick up.
Pee is not only used for identifying another dog’s profile, but also for establishing dominance. The higher up the urine is on a vertical surface, the larger and therefore more dominant the dog, it would seem.
The scent of dried urine on vertical surfaces also carries further. That’s why trees and fire hydrants are such popular “watering” spots.
It turns out dogs — just like humans — can often try to exaggerate their social status. You may have seen some smaller male dogs almost tipping over on their sides from trying to lift their leg super high to get their pee as far up a tree trunk as possible.
So, what happens after your dog reads another dog’s message? Well, in many cases, they post their own update. Meaning, they pee on top of or next to the other dog’s pee.
High-ranking male dogs will over mark, meaning they will pee on top of another dog’s pee. Female dogs, on the other hand, may pee next to another dog’s pee but not on top of it.
Research suggests females are interested in learning more about both male and female dogs. In contrast, male dogs — ever hopeful of being top dog — spend more time sniffing the urine of other males.
Interestingly, dogs will spend less time sniffing their own pee than that of other dogs. Researchers argue this points to a level of self-awareness among our canine companions.
So, what does all of this mean when you are out for a walk with your dog? Well, if your dog is like my dog Sueshi, who is a complete social butterfly, it means your walk will have a lot of stops to learn what your pup’s friends are up to.
While it’s not necessary to let your dog read every message, I like to indulge Sueshi with all the sniffing she likes. I realize this is her most important form of mental stimulation. Her walks, especially the smelling part, help to overcome the boredom of sitting around the house most of the day.
Although the stopping and starting can be frustrating when I would like to get my heart rate up, I try to remember that dogs get more out of a walk when they are able to stop and sniff, compared to walking a long distance with no social media breaks.
For the most part, I also let Sueshi determine the direction of our walks. I never know when we head out the front door if we will be turning left or right or what route we will be taking once we get started. We just follow her nose.
Dia DuVernet is president and CEO of Pasadena Humane.
This blog post originally appeared as a column in the Pasadena Star-News on February 18, 2023.