Barky Von Schnauzer
May 3, 2007 3:13 PM   Subscribe

So, what's my dog trying to figure out?

Sometimes she'll very intently sniff a tree or a pole where another dog has obviously peed. She's obviously concentrating and putting a lot of thought into it.

What I want to know is what the heck she is trying to figure out. Is she trying to interpret the gender and make and model of the other dog? What goes on in her head?
posted by DieHipsterDie to Pets & Animals (16 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I think she's deciphering the unique scent-tag associated with each dog and matching it to her mental library of known canines. "Hmm, pleasingly acrid with strong ammonia overtones and an impudent vinegary tang...must be Bloodfang the Destroyer." Then she has to decide whether or not the accumulation of urinary leavings requires her addition to either announce to her friends that "Kilroy was here" or to warn unknown pee-ers that this is her turf and suckas best respect.
posted by Midnight Creeper at 3:23 PM on May 3, 2007 [11 favorites]

Think of it this way: It's like the other dog has posted an AskMeFi(do) question, and she's figuring out whether she has any insights to offer. Odds are she'll conclude not, but pee anyway.
posted by Clyde Mnestra at 3:27 PM on May 3, 2007 [12 favorites]

I wonder this too when my dog's reading his peemail. Since dogs can learn a pretty surprising amount from smelling another dog's urine (sex, general age, health status, etc.), I think sometimes when they take an extra-long time it's either because it's a new dog, because there's a change in a known dog ("note to self, avoid Cujo"), and/or because they're trying to add something new to their scent-library ("that's interesting...I'll call it...bladder infection"). Smell to a dog is an entirely different sense than it is to a human, and I also think that sometimes dogs just really enjoy getting right into using their sense of smell, like we enjoy a massage.
posted by biscotti at 3:32 PM on May 3, 2007 [3 favorites]

I think that pee, for dogs, is sort of like a myspace page.

Plus, in urban areas, a lot of dogs will pee in the same spot. I imagine that part of the intense concentration is figuring out that the minor cold belongs with *this* dog, and the going-into-heat belongs with this other one.

But that's just based on me staring at dogs getting REALLY into sniffing trees.
posted by thehmsbeagle at 3:45 PM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

I think that pee, for dogs, is sort of like a myspace page.

Or a Facebook page. It's their way of "poking" each other.
posted by ericb at 3:48 PM on May 3, 2007

I was out walking my dog a few minutes ago with my friend Robyn and described his intense sniffing-then-peeing routine as reading someone's blog and leaving a comment, but I think I might like thehmsbeagle's version better (despite really hating MySpace).
posted by lia at 4:00 PM on May 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

She's just checking peemail.
posted by Hogshead at 4:08 PM on May 3, 2007

This makes me happy that someone invented business cards
posted by Raybun at 4:49 PM on May 3, 2007 [2 favorites]

Since dogs can learn a pretty surprising amount from smelling another dog's urine (sex, general age, health status, etc.)...

I alway wonder about this. I mean, how do we know that? Increased sniffing time observed between groups of dogs smelling male vs female, healthy vs. sick?

Dogs really like smells. Any smells (although my dog was always more interested in other dog smells vs. say, cat smells). Their noses are by far their most sensitive sensory apparatus, and I imagine that they get some kind of pleasure out of it (just like us with chocolate, coffee, flowers etc.). The funny thing is that dogs don't seem to find too many smells offensive. They'll happily roll around in shit like it's the latest perfume, and other dog urine is like "teh best smell EVAR!" I don't think there's too much higher cognitive processes going on, by which to say I don't think he's thinking much. He's probably memorising the smell before he obliterates it with his own, and he might have an idea about how many dogs are in his neighbourhood through this, but I find it unlikely that he can work out that bitsy is sick, or that spot thinks his master is an asshole, or anything else especially complicated.
posted by kisch mokusch at 5:19 PM on May 3, 2007

Micturated upon trees are the community bulletin boards for dogs.

The way I see it, after reading all of my wife's ethology and dog training books:

How long would you stare at a tree covered with pictures of all your neighbors, with notes stating their age, race, health, mood and sexual availability? These are just a few of the things scientist have bee able to prove dogs can learn from smelling another dogs pee.
posted by Dataphage at 6:35 PM on May 3, 2007 [1 favorite]

Dogs care about where they fit in the pecking order, who's messing with their territory, who's messing with their stuff, what they can eat, and who they can have sex with.

Perhaps sniffing urine helps in their finding out what other dogs pass through your area, and helps them keep up with all of these things.
posted by popechunk at 6:58 PM on May 3, 2007

Yeah, if their noses are some damn sensitive, how come they have no problem sticking them in a pile of dog do do?
posted by DieHipsterDie at 8:05 PM on May 3, 2007

I've wondered about this, too. I used to have a retired racing greyhound who was very "spooky" when we adopted him due to previous abuse. He was wary of strangers, be they human or canine, and mainly stayed in the house except for a daily walk or a quick excusion into the backyard for his toilette. During his walk, however, he stopped at every tree, bush and decorative boulder to "read" his mail. He didn't really "know" any other dogs in the neighborhood, so I have no clue as to what he was getting out of his daily sniff routine.
posted by Oriole Adams at 9:06 PM on May 3, 2007

just wanted to say that "reading peemail" is my new favoritest expression ever
posted by Quietgal at 7:34 AM on May 4, 2007

posted by Huplescat at 9:36 AM on May 4, 2007

Yeah, if their noses are some damn sensitive, how come they have no problem sticking them in a pile of dog do do?

the bf and I were just discussing this the other day after observing his dog take a long, contented sniff at a pretty horrifying mound of crap that quite possibly had its own zip code. He just read something that argued that it's related to dogs' evolution from wolves, and the practice of packs of wolves learning to hover around garbage mounds on the perimeters of villages and campsites in order to scavenge for food. So dogs' instinct to stick their noses today in gigantic piles of crap is an echo of the days of rooting around in rotting refuse to get food.

posted by scody at 12:09 PM on May 4, 2007 [1 favorite]

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