The Potty Time Sniff and Kick
You’ve seen it countless times: on a walk or in the yard, your dog will sniff around, sometimes doing circles, sometimes doing a little dance, and sometimes following some strange pattern only he can discern, just to find the absolutely perfect spot to poop.
Why? You ask. Why not just, you know, go?
Well, the answer is that dogs are complex creatures, and there are differing opinions as to why dogs go through such elaborate rituals before they do their business. One answer is that it boils down to territory marking and communication through scent. Dogs’ strongest sense is their sense of smell, and they learn a lot about the other dogs in the neighborhood by sniffing around before potty. According to this article for Wired, dogs can tell not only who was at the same spot, but when, which is pretty astounding. They can pick up on that dog’s diet, and smell if there is a female in heat nearby, all from sniffing the potty spots of other dogs.
Leaving a little gift in the grass is also a way of saying “I Was Here!” And even though you pick up said gift with a bag, your dog still has a strong instinct to carefully consider the location of his potty break. It’s a way to mark territory and let the other dogs around town know who’s neighborhood they’re in when they do their own poop dances.
What about kicking?
After your dog has selected the perfect spot to leave his little doggie message and signature, sometimes he’ll kick, which, depending on the size and the strength of the dog, can be cute or mortifying, if he’s tearing chunks of grass out of your lawn. After all that effort and dancing and circling and sniffing to find the perfect spot, now he wants to kick too? Why?
The answer is, as you may have guessed, scent marking. Dogs spread their scent by moving the grass around, since their paws have glands that secrete pheromones. Scratching the ground and kicking is a sure-fire way to make certain even more scent gets around on the grass.
What if they take forever to go?
Sometimes your dog takes forever to go potty not just because he has to find that perfect spot, but because the environment around him is distracting. Loud noises from trucks, trains, or lawn care services, for example, can startle dogs into holding it. Every dog is different, and some don’t seem to care about distractions. Other dogs won’t go potty during a rainstorm for love or money.
The Wired article also suggests that some dogs don’t want to go potty right away because holding it means they can stay outdoors longer. It sounds a bit manipulative on the dog’s part, but most dogs love to be outside, and if they aren’t getting enough outdoor enrichment and exercise, it’s easy to imagine them stalling during their potty break. It may be that if you increase the amount of time you spend with your dog outside they may be more willing to do their thing during potty time. Other dogs just prefer to poop on their own property, and rarely do so on a walk.
Some people train their dogs to do their business immediately once they go out, and often in a specific section of the yard. For older dogs, this could take some getting used to, but it’s worth a shot if your dog is a really hesitant pooper, or if you just want to ensure that you can rely on your dogs to go out and go potty right away. This article from IHeartDogs has some training ideas.