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Do Small Dogs Pee More Often?

Research shows that little dogs may feel the need to scent mark more frequently than big dogs.

by Karen B. London, PhD
March 13, 2021
Pomeranian dog peeing on green grass
ijacky / Adobe Stock

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Whether you have a big dog or a small pup, you’ve probably seen your dog scent mark (or urine mark), which is when they release a small amount of urine, usually in multiple locations. Marking is a common dog behavior but if your pup does it often, you might be wondering if it’s normal. Turns out, small dogs are actually more likely to pee frequently on walks. Here’s everything you need to know. 

What is Scent Marking?

Scent marking is a common form of communication across a wide range of animals. Although dogs can scent mark in various ways, they most often use urine, which is obvious to anyone who has watched dogs pee here, there, and everywhere while out on a walk.

Urination, and other forms of scent marking, allow animals to convey a large amount of information in an indirect manner. In other words, that they can communicate without direct interactions, which is a good thing because it helps them avoid stress, the energetic costs of interacting, and potential injury. In many species, body size is closely correlated with competitive ability, which is why scent marking may be especially important to smaller animals, who may be unlikely to fare well in direct encounters.

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Do Small Dogs Pee More Often?

Dogs have an enormous size range for a single species, but only recently has the effect of size on frequency of scent marking been investigated. Researchers wondered whether smaller dogs take advantage of the indirect nature of scent marking through urine to be more competitive with larger dogs.

In the study, researchers walked 281 shelter dogs (mostly mixed breeds) that they categorized by size. Small dogs measured 33 cm or less at the withers, large dogs measured 50 cm or more, and medium dogs were above 33 cm but less than 50 cm. They recorded urinations during the first 20 minutes of each walk, noting whether they were directed at a target or not. (Targeted urinations were those that occurred after sniffing a spot on the ground or on some other surface, and those that involved urinating somewhere other than the ground even without sniffing it first.)

The study found that smaller dogs marked more often than medium or large dogs and that they were more likely to direct their urine at targets compared to large dogs. Though smaller bladder capacities of smaller dogs could explain increased frequency of urination, that cannot account for the increased frequency of urinating on targets.

As expected, male dogs also marked more frequently and directed their urine at targets more often than female dogs. The length of time that dogs had spent in the shelter was positively associated with frequency of directed urinations, but not with total number of urinations. Size had no effect on the frequency of defecations on walks, but dogs who had been at the shelter longer were a little bit more likely to defecate on walks.

The study notes, “Our findings that rate of urination and percentage of directed urinations during walks were higher in small dogs than large dogs are consistent with those of McGreevy (2013) who surveyed dog owners about problematic in-home behaviors associated with urination. These authors reported that urination when left alone, urine marking, and emotional urination were more common in smaller dogs (height used as a measure of body size).”

The authors concluded that smaller dogs use scent marking in the form of urination more frequently than medium or large dogs. It is possible that they are using scent marks in order to avoid direct interactions.

Karen London holding up a small dog

Karen B. London, PhD

Karen B. London, Ph.D., is a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Certified Professional Dog Trainer who specializes in working with dogs with serious behavioral issues, including aggression, and has also trained other animals including cats, birds, snakes, and insects. She writes the animal column for the Arizona Daily Sun and is an Adjunct Professor in the Department of Biological Sciences at Northern Arizona University. She is the author of six books about training and behavior, including her most recent, Treat Everyone Like a Dog: How a Dog Trainer’s World View Can Improve Your Life.