If you are a lucky dog owner, you have probably witnessed the following situation: your dog kicking the ground like a bull after urinating or pooping. You’ve probably asked yourself: "Why on earth does my dog do this", right?
This behaviour is observed in most canids (wolves, coyotes...) but also in other mammals, such as the lion. As it is generally observed in social species, we can assume that it is a form of communication, and the management of relations within the group, but also between groups. However, one must be careful with this type of comparison. Even the wolf, which is very similar to the dog, has a slightly different social structure, and a behaviour can have a different meaning for a given species. It is therefore necessary to analyse this behaviour in the dog before drawing conclusions from observations of the wolf, or other species.
We will see in this article that there is not just one explanation. There aren’t many studies to explain this behaviour, but there are some avenues we can explore together. So let’s find out why dogs kick their feet after pooping or peeing.
Why do dogs scratch their feet after going to the bathroom?
Why do dogs scratch the ground after pooping or peeing? For a few reasons. First, it is a behaviour dogs have inherited from their ancestors. It is also a way for dogs to communicate and to leave its mark. Ground scratching in domestic dogs is often accompanied by urine marking, for example next to a tree. This reflects the same territorial marking behaviour observed in coyotes and wolves.
Firstly, not all dogs perform this behaviour. On the contrary, it is quite rare. “It seems to occur in both males and females, but only about 10% of dogs do it," explained Rosie Bescoby, a UK animal behaviourist for the Association of Pet Behaviour Counsellors.
She also notes that this behaviour is triggered by a specific set of circumstances: dogs engage in this enthusiastic performance immediately after urinating or defecating when they are in a new area with unfamiliar scents, and when they smell another dog.
Dogs have sweat glands and/or sebaceous glands in their fur between their toes. These glands also produce pheromones. So dogs probably leave these scents in the ground and then disperse them with their vigorous pawing in order to leave a message. When a dog kicks the ground after doing its business, the animal leaves visible traces near a place: it therefore has visual and olfactory communication elements.
3 Reasons dogs kick their hind feet after pooping
Naturally, when we see our dog kicking the ground after pooping or peeing, we instinctively think it’s territorial marking. But it is actually more than that. Communication seems to be the main reason for this behaviour. But the link between both is close, and the notion of territory in the dog still needs to be discussed. Let’s go more into detail.
It’s an inherited behaviour
As a distant descendant of the wolf, the dog has retained certain behaviours in its daily habits. These ancestors had the particularity of scratching the ground after urinating to defend their territory from possible intruders.
It’s a dog’s way of communicating
A dog's sense of smell is estimated to be 10,000 to 100,000 times more sharp than that of humans. By sniffing for long seconds at the odours left by other dogs, a dog reads the information from a previous visit.
The dog is above all a social animal and is more likely to inform its fellow dogs of its presence. Scratching allows the dog to leave a double visual and olfactory mark. Indeed, your dog has glands on the pads of his paws. When your dog scratches the ground, he secretes hormones that end up on the ground. This behaviour shows your dog that he has been there. This often provokes the interest of other dogs around. It is not uncommon to observe another dog coming, smelling, and urinating a little on the area, or even scratching.
It’s a dog’s way of leaving its mark
While this message may indeed be present in coyotes and wolves, researchers note that domestic animals do not own and manage territories in the same way as wild animals. So instead of aggressively warning dogs to stay away, ground scratching could simply be a way for dogs to warn others of their own presence: "I'm leaving a message just to let you know I'm here”. It then depends on affinity. "If we are friends, you can stay here. If we're not, it's better for you to leave.”
Is it normal for dogs to kick after they poop?
Yes, because it is an instinctive behaviour. By kicking the ground, dogs leave both a visual trace (displaced grass, small hole dug, scattered gravel, etc.) and an olfactory trace thanks to the pheromones they release. Their fellow dogs and other animals are thus warned of their passage. This is a dog’s way to communicate.
Are certain dogs more likely to kick after pooping or peeing?
How do I get my dog to stop kicking after peeing?
If it appears to be excessive, for example if your dog is digging up the garden every time it has finished its business, you can try to deflect him, using positive reinforcement.
The idea is that this is a natural and perfectly normal behaviour. The reaction to this is simply to let the dog perform, and avoid standing right behind him at the time (a little advice…).
If the behaviour is not disruptive, interrupting your animal isn’t great, as your pet is only performing a natural behaviour. It is therefore necessary, when possible, to offer your dog a place where he can romp and scratch as much as he wants too, or a substitute that will avoid the stress of being interrupted in his ritual (you can offer him a game immediately after doing his business to distract him).
It is important to remember that this behaviour is part of the communication between dogs, whether it is visual, by means of pheromone, or both. This allows communication between dogs in the group, but also between groups. This behaviour therefore has several functions, which are quite similar, but which remain hypotheses requiring further investigation.