Why Do Dogs Scratch the Ground After They Pee or Poop?

If you are a dog owner, you will probably have noticed many strange behaviors and wondered why your dog does certain things. One behavior that you may have noticed in your dog or in someone else’s dogs scratch the ground after they have urinated. Those who have a dog that does this will no doubt have ended up in the firing line as the dog propels huge chunks of the ground into the air as they scratch energetically.

This behavior is one that has been of particular interest to animal behavior experts and researchers who have called the phenomenon ground scratching. Their findings could tell people a lot about dogs. They have noticed that only about 10 percent of dogs display this behavior, but that it is equally common in both males and females. Therefore, it is not a gender-specific behavior and nor is it one that is common to all dogs.

It is not a behavior that is displayed only by domestic dogs as many wild mammals also display this behavior. Wolves, coyotes, and lions are just some of the examples of animals that engage in ground scratching. Studies of wolves and coyotes have been particularly revealing about the reasons behind scratching the ground in this way.

Wolves and coyotes are pack animals and ground scratching is part of their social natures. Studies have shown that it is usually the dominant members of the pack that scratch the ground after urinating or defecating. It is believed that they do this to delimit their territory from members of other packs, not from their own.

The ground scratching marks their territory in two ways. First, the scratching leaves marks on the ground. Second, it is a way of spreading the scent from their urine or from the secretions from the glands in their paws. Therefore, if another animal hasn’t seen them marking the territory, they will either see the markings or smell the scent.

Scientists have then compared these findings to the behavior of domestic dogs and they have found some similarities. First, ground scratching is often followed by urinating on a nearby tree to further mark the confines of their territory, just like wild dogs. Another similarity is that domestic dogs also secrete marking fluids form their paws.

The researchers have noted that it is unclear whether other dogs are picking up on this scent or not. However, they do know that dogs have sebaceous glands between their toes and sweat glands on their paws.

Carlo Siracusa is a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine. He noted that the secretions also contained pheromones that would send chemical messages to other dogs. While it is unclear exactly what message the pheromones would convey, it is thought that they are intended to deliver a warning that other dogs are nearby.

Siracusa goes on to explain the assumption that ground scratching is aggressive behavior that is intended to threaten other dogs. While this may be true, to an extent, for dogs in the wild it is unlikely to be the case for domestic dogs. Siracusa believes that it is simply to let other dogs know they are there to avoid meeting each other in a confined space.

Anecdotally, Siracusa has also noticed that dogs that display ground scratching behavior are usually nervous, insecure dogs. However, he is quick to point out that this does not mean that all dogs that scratch the ground are anxious dogs. He says it is a perfectly natural behavior that is not a cause for concern and is a behavior that dogs of all personality types can display.

If you are the owner of a dog that scratches the ground after urinating, you are possibly now wondering what this research means for you and your dog. The truth is, it means very little and you do need to have concerns about this behavior. It is as simple as some dogs do it and other dogs do not. You do not need to take any action to prevent your dog from displaying this behavior as it is completely natural. Experts even think that trying to quash this behavior could lead to anxiety in your dog, so just let them get on with it.


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