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May 27, 2024

Crouching Terrier, Hidden Dignity

By Tim Henderson

There are few more emasculating ways to start out the day than when the cute neighbor girl who lives in the apartment upstairs' German shepherd lifts his leg to mark the spot where my fully grown male terrier is currently sitting down to pee.

Hi, my name is Tim, and I am ashamed that my six year old West Highland White Terrier, Grady, urinates like a girl.

At first, I worried this was my fault. Or, more accurately, I worried other people would assume it was. You know what they say about dogs being mirrors for their owners' personalities? Every time Grady popped a squat in front of a neighbor or acquaintance or pedestrian, I imagined them imagining me as some kind of half-crazed over-protective fido fanatic who buys a new wardrobe for his pet with the changing of every season, dropping hundreds of dollars a year on four-legged raincoats and those inhumanely frilly pastel sweaters that yuppies and Japanese people and flamboyant stereotypes of homosexuals force their dogs to wear.

Eager to avoid the humiliation of being lumped together with such serial dog dresser-uppers (a practice I consider to be a mild form of animal abuse, since nothing possessing a fur coat of its own can ever appear dignified whilst wearing a cardigan), Grady and I adopted a strategy of hyper-masculine over-compensation. Much as I love my dog, and loathe as I am to admit it, even before the whole sitting-down-to-pee problem surfaced, I was already a little self-conscious about walking around with such a small breed in an apartment complex populated mostly by Big Dog People with labs and retrievers. I hate these people and their snide way of looking down their noses to scoff at my pint-sized pup. So to make up for it, every time we encountered a larger dog, I would turn to Grady as he gleefully sniffed its nether-regions and say something to the effect of, "Settle down there, you vicious killer," or "Please, don't hurt him," or "Savage hell-hound, I beseech thee, be merciful." That sort of thing.

"Oh, it's OK," the Big Dog People would say condescendingly, "my Hercules gets along just fine with little yippie dogs." That's when I would look them dead in the eye and say, "No, I was talking to Grady here. He killed a family of four last week and would just as soon maul you, too. He's got that taste for blood now, you know? By the way, that's a real nice sweater your dog has there."

The lone flaw with this plan is that it backfired almost every time because Grady would inevitably get over-excited by the chance to meet new friends and end up needing to have a seat so as to relieve himself. "Come on buddy, lift that leg," I would urge him in my Dammit dog, this is important voice, but to no avail.

Something had to be done. Initially, I called up my local vet to ask for some advice, but he refused to even talk about the problem unless I was willing to bring the dog in for a $50 check-up. Then I found an ad in the paper for one of those pet psychologists who've crawled out of the woodwork and into the Yellow Pages as shows like The Dog Whisperer have grown in popularity. When I got there and told her about our problem, she accused me of treating Grady like a little person covered in hair and said I had negligently allowed him to take over my household's alpha-male top-dog status. In short, she was insane, but at least it only cost us twenty-five bucks to find out.

Finally, with no other recourse, I turned to one of those internet websites specifically designed for people who care enough about their dogs to consult the opinions of online pseudo-experts but not enough to actually open up their wallets and shell-out the requisite cash for professional help. That's where I learned that I was not alone in my urinary neuroses. I discovered message board after message board filled with the exact same complaints and cries for help as mine from worried dog owners across the country. Turns out, there is a sizable minority of male dogs who, for whatever reason, can't or won't stand up to pee, and nobody really knows why exactly.

While the consensus is that leg-lifting tends to kick in around age one and is rooted in the male dog's impetus to mark his territory, there is still some debate as to whether this behavior is learned or instinctive, and what effect neutering might have on it. In the wild, adult male dogs utilize their urine to communicate with other dogs, gradually dispersing it throughout their habitats to tag what's theirs. It's almost similar to urban graffiti; Furious G was here, you don't wanna step to this. Some experts believe leg-lifting helps dogs to establish territorial dominance by elevating their urine stream so it can hit vertical surfaces, where its scent will last longer and remain at nose-level so all subsequent canine passersby can catch a whiff. You and I might find all this p-mail disgusting, but it is simply what dogs do when left to their own devices.

However, there is evidence to support the notion that many dogs who are neutered before their first birthdays never actually bother to learn to lift their legs. This would make sense, given that territory-marking is thought to be fueled by testosterone, and (as was the case with Grady) there's nothing that inhibits the free flow of male hormones like paying copious amounts of money for a veterinarian to remove your puppy's testicles with a scalpel. Some neutered males who live amongst non-neutered leg-lifters will still learn the behavior themselves, but in our apartment it's just me and Grady, and I really don't feel comfortable inviting him into the bathroom to watch me demonstrate.

Several of the concerned owners I ran across on the message boards worried that chronic squatting would damage their dogs' skin and coat by constantly exposing them to steady trickles of urine. But Grady's fortunately never had that problem, and it seems like on balance his reluctance to learn how the big boys do it is not such a bad thing. Instead of saving up every last drop to parcel out on the tallest and shiniest objects around, he just lets it all out in one long sitting, which definitely cuts down on the time it takes to walk him. It does have the downside of creating large splotches of discolored grass in those favorite spots of his around the apartment complex that receive large concentrated doses of nitrogen every morning, but that's the beauty of renting: lawn maintenance is somebody else's problem.

In the end, we both learned to live with it. I even stopped feeling like less of a man on account of Grady's subservience to the cute neighbor girl upstairs' German shepherd, and for a while she and I ended up dating. There was one this one night when she came over and the two of us watched a movie on my couch. Grady wasn't particularly happy about that. Some broad had come into his house, taken over the seat where he usually sits, and refused to pay any attention to him whatsoever despite all his usually reliable tricks for making humans appreciate just how adorable he is. I guess you could say her attention was elsewhere ... Next day, after she'd left, Grady was back in his normal spot beside me on the couch. I was feeling pretty tired, could barely stay awake when all the sudden I noticed a distinctly wet sensation spreading across the cushion beside me. I looked over, and there was Grady, peeing on the couch. My first response was to yell angrily, but then I saw his leg. It was lifted. He'd finally learned.

I was so proud.

It almost makes up for the fact that the cute girl from upstairs ended up marrying a guy who owns a Great Dane.

Article © Tim Henderson. All rights reserved.
Published on 2009-09-21
5 Reader Comments
05:25:46 PM
Good one! Here's my valuable contribution to the Scientific Pee-Pee Inquiry: we have two neutered male dogs (one at 6-9 mos., one at 1-2 yrs.); both of them cheerfully lift a leg if there's something interesting to water, otherwise they relax and squat.

They do NOT, however, shake hands or wear clothes.
09:55:46 PM
you can't get away with writing a sentence like: "There are few more emasculating ways to start out the day than when the cute neighbor girl who lives in the apartment upstairs' German shepherd lifts his leg..." very awkward use of a possessive. you could instead write, "There are few more emasculating ways to start out the day than when the German shepherd that belongs to the cute neighbor girl who lives in the apartment upstairs lifts his leg..." other than that, very humorous.
07:21:06 AM
nah, even that doesn't work because it seems like the neighbor girl is lifting "his" leg. "There's a cute neighbor who lives upstairs, and it's very emasculating when her German shepherd lifts its leg..."
02:20:42 PM


Much more than OK.

M.J. Nicholls
05:23:37 PM
Thank you for this urinary laugh-and-a-half. Ignore the anonymi. They're perfectionists.
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