Why Won’t My Dog Lift His Leg to Pee?

An Introduction to Male Dog Peeing Habits

Have you ever noticed that most male dogs pee by lifting their leg in the air to mark their territory, while female dogs tend to squat or crouch closer to the ground? These are just two of the common peeing poses dogs demonstrate. But what if your male dog doesn’t lift his leg to pee? There are several reasons why this may occur.

In this article, we’ll explore the various causes and explanations for why a male dog may not lift his leg, despite this being the typical posture for male canines. We’ll cover behavioral factors like lack of confidence, physical limitations, and learned habits. We’ll also look at potential health issues that could be impacting your dog’s peeing style. Understanding the root causes can help you address the behavior through training, medical treatment, or simple adjustments to accommodate your dog’s needs.


Male dogs have a unique urinary system anatomy that allows them to lift their leg and pee while standing. The key components involved in peeing and leg lifting include the kidneys, ureters, bladder, and urethra. The kidneys filter the blood and produce urine, which travels through the ureters to the bladder for storage. When the dog is ready to urinate, the bladder contracts and urine exits the body through the urethra, which runs along the ventral side of the penis.

a dog having difficulty lifting its leg due to joint pain.

When male dogs lift their leg to pee, they are taking advantage of having a flexible and elongated urethra. Lifting the leg straightens the urethra and allows for targeted urination while standing. Unflexing the urethra by leg lifting helps project urine further and with better aim than peeing with legs on the ground. It also helps avoid urinating on their own legs and paws.

Leg Lifting Instinct

Many male dogs have a natural instinct to lift their leg to pee starting around 6-12 months of age. According to the AKC, “Before they mature, male dogs will squat to urinate, but once they reach adolescence, the leg will go up” (source). This behavior is driven by hormones as the dog reaches sexual maturity. PetMD explains that “as male puppies mature, their bodies produce rising levels of testosterone, triggering a number of behavioral and physical changes” which includes leg lifting (source).

The age when dogs start lifting their leg can vary between breeds. Small breeds may start lifting their leg around 6 months old, while medium to large breeds often don’t start until 9-12 months old once their testosterone levels have risen sufficiently. The leg lifting instinct emerges as part of their innate drive to stake their claim and mark their territory.

Lack of Confidence

Some dogs may not lift their leg to urinate due to a lack of confidence or timidness. Anxious or fearful dogs often exhibit submissive behaviors like not lifting their leg. Signs that a dog lacks confidence include: hiding or backing away when approached, ears back, tail tucked, licking lips, yawning, trembling, and avoiding eye contact.

Timid dogs may not want to lift their leg and expose their belly, as it makes them feel vulnerable. They prefer to squat down low to the ground to feel more secure. Lack of confidence can stem from lack of socialization, neglect, or abuse. Building up a dog’s confidence through rewards, training, and positive interactions can help encourage leg lifting over time.

According to PetPlace.com, “Because leg lifting can be associated with dominance and territorial marking, dogs who are submissive may not show this behavior.” [1] If your dog seems timid and anxious, working to boost their confidence can help them start lifting their leg.

Physical Limitations

As dogs age, they can develop joint and mobility issues that make it difficult or painful to lift their leg to pee. Arthritis is common in older dogs and can cause stiffness and pain in the hips, knees, and spine that prevents them from holding their leg up. According to topdoghealth.com, a wide stance with elbows pushed out can indicate joint problems.

an older dog with mobility limitations squatting to urinate.

Back problems like intervertebral disc disease or degenerative myelopathy can also make it difficult for a dog to lift its leg. The back legs become weak which affects balance and coordination needed to raise the leg. Older male dogs with mobility issues often choose to squat rather than lift their leg due to discomfort or inability to hold the position.

Learned Behavior

Dogs do not innately know how to lift their leg to pee. It is a learned behavior that develops as the dog matures. According to Spaying and Neutering Your Puppy or Adult Dog, neutering at a very young age may prevent a male dog from ever learning to lift his leg.

Male dogs often learn to lift their leg from observing other dogs in their environment. They also learn that lifting their leg allows them to leave their scent higher up for other dogs to detect. According to the AKC, neutered males may still lift their leg on occasion, especially if they learned the behavior prior to neutering. But the motivation to mark territory is greatly reduced after neutering.

Submissive Urination

A common cause of a male dog not lifting his leg to urinate is submissive urination. This occurs when a dog feels very submissive, anxious, excited, or intimidated. The dog pees without lifting his leg to show submission and appeasement. According to the UC Davis Veterinary Medicine, submissive urination is driven by fear and anxiety.

a anxious, submissive dog peeing without lifting its leg.

Submissive urination is more common in certain breeds like spaniels, schnauzers, and Chihuahuas. These dogs tend to be more submissive by nature. When faced with stimuli that makes them feel anxious like strangers, loud noises, or punishment, they will pee without lifting their leg. This shows they are not a threat. Submissive urination usually happens when dogs are young but can persist into adulthood if the underlying anxiety is not addressed.


Excess weight can make it challenging for some male dogs to lift their leg to urinate. Carrying extra pounds places more strain on the joints and muscles, which can prevent easy mobility and flexibility. Obesity stresses the hips, knees, and ankles that are needed to raise the back leg and urinate in the normal lifting fashion.

According to one source, “Sometimes, as they age, they become arthritic and it becomes more difficult to place weight on a single back leg without pain.” (Source)

The importance of maintaining a healthy weight through proper diet and exercise cannot be overstated for male dogs. Excess weight puts more pressure on the joints and can accelerate arthritis and mobility issues. Keeping your dog at an optimal weight reduces joint stress and may allow him to continue lifting his leg normally to urinate as he ages.

Consult with your veterinarian to determine a healthy target weight for your dog. Feed him quality dog food in appropriate portions and incorporate daily exercise to maintain lean muscle mass. With a fit, trim physique, your male dog will have an easier time lifting his leg for years to come.

Medical Conditions

Certain medical conditions may prevent a male dog from lifting his leg to urinate. Diseases that affect the endocrine system, like Cushing’s disease, can cause excessive urination and affect a dog’s natural instincts. Urinary tract infections (UTIs) or bladder stones may also make it painful for a male dog to lift his leg.

If a previously house-trained adult male dog stops lifting his leg to urinate, it could signal an underlying medical issue. Some other signs to watch out for include increased thirst, frequent urination, leaks or accidents in the house, blood in the urine, and crying out or showing signs of pain before or during urination. If your dog is displaying any of these symptoms along with not lifting his leg, it’s important to schedule a veterinary exam as soon as possible.

Your vet can run tests to check for conditions like UTIs, bladder stones, kidney disease, diabetes, and Cushing’s disease. They may collect a urine sample or do imaging tests like x-rays or an ultrasound. Based on the diagnosis, your vet will recommend appropriate treatment to manage your dog’s condition and improve his comfort and quality of life.

Training a Leg Lift

Some dog owners may want to train their male dog to lift his leg when urinating. This is an instinctual behavior that emerges as the dog matures, but some training can help encourage it. According to WagWalking, the best way to train a leg lift is through positive reinforcement and rewards.

using positive reinforcement to train a male dog to lift its leg.

Start by gently lifting one of the dog’s hind legs and rewarding with treats while he’s in that position. Keep rewarding as long as he holds the lifted leg stance. Over time, progress to lifting the leg yourself less often and waiting for the dog to lift on his own before rewarding. Be patient and consistent with rewards each time the dog successfully lifts his leg.

Praising the dog and giving treats as soon as the leg lift happens is key. He will associate the reward with the action. While some owners may want to use scolding when he doesn’t lift, positive reinforcement works best for teaching dogs. With persistence and positivity, male dogs can learn to lift their leg when urinating.

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