Why Does My Dog Pretend To Pee? (We Asked A Veterinarian)

small male dog with leg raised
<a href="https://notabully.org/author/dr-athena-angela-gaffud-dvm" target="_blank" rel="noopener">     <span style="font-size: 21px; color: black;">Fact Checked & Reviewed By: </span>     <strong style="font-size: 20px; color: black;">Dr. Athena Angela Gaffud, DVM</strong> </a>

Dr. Gaffud is an experienced veterinarian who has been running her own clinic since 2016.

Depending on their age, diet, size, and amount of exercise, dogs can hold their pee for between 8 and 10 hours. However, most veterinarians recommend letting your dog out to pee every 6 to 8 hours for bladder and kidney health.

Regardless of how long your dog can physically hold their pee, anyone who regularly takes their dogs out for walks might notice their dogs pee a lot more than that.

I have a couple of small boy dogs who do not discriminate on what they like to pee on and sometimes they run out of urine and start to fake pee. They are lifting their legs but nothing is coming out. Many owners with dogs of all sizes and genders have observed their dogs pretend to pee.

Most dogs are pretending to pee because they are marking but running out of urine. Alternatively, your dog might be trying to distract you or want to be rewarded. Dogs like to please us and know being potty trained makes us happy. Finally, straining to pee might be a medical concern. 

Not A Bully advisor Dr. Athena Gaffud explains that “If there’s a medical cause for the pretend pee, it could be any number of serious medical conditions causing a urinary obstruction such as stones or even an enlarged prostate in male dogs. However, if a serious medical issue is the problem, you’ll likely see other concerning symptoms to make sure to look at the overall picture.”

We’ll look at all the possible reasons and help you figure out which explanation makes the most sense for your pup!

Reason 1. Your Dog Is Marking

Just because your dog does not have any pee left in their bladder does not mean they are not going to attempt to mark. By peeing and pooping on top of things, dogs can spread their pheromones in a wider scent range than if they peed on the ground. Mostly male, but some female, dogs mark by lifting their leg to get their pee as high as possible to communicate to other dogs about territory claims or heat cycles. 

A dog marking is a different behavior than emptying their bladder. They are peeing not as a bathroom break but to spread a message. It probably looks like your dog is pretending to pee when they mark because they need so little pee to spread that message. On the other hand, your dog might have run out of pee, but instinctively lift their leg to fake pee when they smell other dogs’ “pee-mail.”

Reason 2. Your Dog Is Out Of Pee

Spaying and neutering help some dogs eliminate marking, but it is not guaranteed. Dr. Gaffud told us “Excessive marking via urination is one of the behavioral problems associated with hormones. Removing the source of these hormones puts a halt to this unwanted behavior and is one of the many benefits of spaying and neutering. However, it’s not guaranteed and some dogs may still mark even after neuter or spay surgery”.

Out of four neutered male dogs I have owned, only one did not mark regularly. Even my spayed female dogs have occasionally lifted their legs to mark certain smells.

And they will keep doing it, even after they have run out of their reserve pee. Smaller dogs will run out of pee faster and are more likely to pretend to pee. My small dog who has to mark everything is going to run out of pee a lot faster than my border collie who only occasionally marks.

Instead of peeing, he fake pees on our walks because he is out of pee. If your dog likes to mark a lot, they are probably going to fake peeing once their bladder is empty.

Reason 3. Your Dog Is Trying To Distract You

I have a friend who’s border collie will pretend to pee at agility trials. Her dog crouches into the posture and then immediately starts pulling towards the arena. She is so excited to run the agility courses that she pretends to pee, distracting her owner from realizing that she is not peeing. She wants to be done outside and go play as quickly as possible.

Dogs like this have been conditioned to understand that when they squat or lift their leg, you will move on since you are no longer waiting for them to pee. They start using their peeing position as a distraction technique and fake pee on their walk. Once we think they have peed we will carry on with our walk, go do a fun activity with them like agility, or let them keep sniffing. 

Other dogs might pretend to pee to distract you to avoid something. Perhaps coming back inside when there is a lot to sniff outside? 

Or your dog might want you to think they have peed so they can get inside faster. While it is certainly okay to walk your dog in rainy or cold weather, that does not mean they will enjoy it. Some dogs might hold their pee or fake pee to get inside as soon as possible like this dog who is unhappy about the rain.

Anxious dogs who are scared of loud noises or large groups of people might also fake pee to make you happy and bring them inside quickly. If you have an anxious dog, you might have to take them out earlier or later when the environment is less busy to make sure they get all their business done.

We cannot anthropomorphize our dogs, this behavior does seem almost manipulative! Even though dogs do experience emotions like that, it is nonetheless an annoying habit. 

Reason 4. You Have Rewarded The Behavior

If your dog has developed the habit of distracting you by fake peeing and you have unintentionally given them a treat or told them they are a good dog, you have rewarded the behavior.

As a dog owner, it is very easy to unintentionally reward bad behavior. Common behaviors I think a lot of dog owners might be guilty of accidentally rewarding include beggingjumping, and excessive licking.

Dogs are good at picking up patterns which is why they respond so well to positive reinforcement training. When you say “Good dog!” and/or give them a treat when they pretend to pee, they easily pick up on the pattern of “I squat or lift my leg without peeing and my human is happy!”

You can use this kind of behavior for training, it is called capturing a behavior.

Your dog spontaneously offers a behavior and you mark it and reward it. Eventually, your dog picks up on the pattern and you can give the behavior a name. I trained one of my dogs to sneeze on command by capturing the behavior. But I would not want to unintentionally reward and capture fake peeing.

Reason 5. Your Dog Is Trying To Please You

As a dog owner, it is important to have a consistent schedule, especially with puppies and newly re-homed or adopted dogs. When your dog knows when they eat, go for a walk, have playtime, and have downtime, their little internal clocks can know when they get to go outside and pee.

However, like our systems are sometimes off schedule, our dogs’ bladder systems might have an off day. And when you are impatiently waiting for them to pee so you can get back to your day, your dog might pretend to pee to please you. They associate squatting or lifting their leg with peeing and making you happy, so they might try to see if that works even if it means they have to fake pee on your walk together.

Tying into what we have already mentioned earlier in this article if you reward your dog for pretending to pee when they are trying to please you, you have now unintentionally rewarded this behavior. Certain dogs might pick up on this pattern and start to frequently fake pee on walks.

Should I Be Worried?

While pretending to pee is an annoying habit for a dog to pick up, especially if you waiting for your dog to pee during a snowstorm or trying to train your puppy to pee outside, it is usually not a behavior to worry about.

However, if your dog appears uncomfortable while pretending to pee, it could be a symptom of a medical issue. Urinary Tract Infections, or UTIs are fairly common and usually very easily treated by a round of antibiotics prescribed by your veterinarian. Besides fake peeing other symptoms of a UTI include:

It is very easy to take a urine sample to your veterinarian when you are worried about your dog’s health. UTIs are probably the most common medical issue for dogs that experience these symptoms, but it could be something more serious like bladder stones, kidney failure, or cancer. This video shows how easy it is to catch your dog’s urine with a ladle so your veterinarian can easily test it.

How Can I Get My Dog To Actually Pee?

Pretending to pee might not seem like that big of a deal until your dog forgets to pee outside and starts having accidents inside. Whether your dog is trying to distract you, you have accidentally rewarded them, or they are trying to please you, it sounds like your dog needs to have a refresher course in potty training.

Unless your dog has marked so much that they have run out of pee, let’s take a look at how to get your dog back on track peeing consistently outside rather than fake peeing.

Back To Potty Training Basic

It is tempting to reward your dog as soon as they assume their peeing position outside. But once you distract them with a treat in your hand, they might not finish or even start peeing. Which means you have now unintentionally rewarded them to pretend to pee.

Instead of verbally rewarding and getting a treat ready as soon as they squat or lift a leg, wait until they are done peeing. Then verbally praise them and give them a treat.

Kikopup has a great video on potty training. While her video focuses on puppies, the information is great if you are going back to basics with a dog of any age to prevent them from fake peeing on a walk.

Create A Consistent Schedule

While you are going back to potty training basics, it is important to keep a consistent schedule for your dog’s pee breaks. Taking your dog out to pee around the same time daily will help them understand the schedule and learn to empty their bladder rather than fake peeing.

Learn where they like to pee take them there and reward them after they have successfully peed. Some dogs do not like to pee in certain places so take them where they can be successful.

When you are first establishing a consistent schedule to keep your dog from fake peeing on walks, properly crate training your dog can help prevent them from peeing inside. While a crate should never be used as punishment, it is a valuable training tool for potty training. With proper crate training, your dog will learn to love their crate.

Final Thoughts

Dogs are not manipulative calculating animals. Pretending to pee is a learned behavior that you have accidentally reinforced. Dogs might be doing it to distract you for more time outside, to hurry up to go back inside, or because they do not need to pee and want to please you.

On the other hand, and I can speak from experience, certain boy dogs love marking. And they will keep marking until their bladders are empty. And if there is some exceptionally interesting “pee-mail” they will lift their leg even when nothing comes out. Believe it or not, some girl dogs will mark and pretend to pee when they are out of pee.

Dogs are funny and are always keeping us on our toes, whether they are just lifting their leg instinctively or we have unintentionally taught them to pretend to pee. If your dog is fake peeing on walks and it is becoming a problem, it is time to go back to potty training basics and keep a consistent schedule. Don’t worry, if your dog has already been successfully house trained, it should be easy for them to pick up on their old and better habit of not pretending to pee.

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