February 12, 2003

High Marks

I'd like to pass along to all of you Buster's thank-you's for your Birthday greetings last week. He particularly appreciated all the emails that said 'give the old boy a hug for me'. How he could tell those hugs from the ones he routinely gets I do not know, but he says he could tell the difference. He asks me also to tell you that yes, thanks, he has mostly recovered from the debilitation of November that we continue to think was Rocky Mountain Fever's effects on his joints.

One evidence of his improvement is that he can now, at last, pee like a guy again. When his hips were painful, even though he would give it a noble effort, he couldn't sustain the three-legged stance so that he could heist the aiming leg to do his business in the gender-appropriate manner. This really embarrased him, and he would look around sheepishly while he merely squatted like a girl.

Now that Buster's able to mark turf the 'right way' again, I've been wondering why this particular male dog habit has become hard-wired into the breed, into the entire species as far as I have been able to observe it. Why is it that male dogs lift the leg in such a way?

Of course there is known fact that males in squirting on a fire hyrdrant or a pasture tree are marking their territory, their urine conveying a signature message of their presence and by realm of distribution, the extent of their turf. But why the heisted leg? Seems like a lot of work to just put some dribbles of male aroma around. This tripod stance is especially an acrobatic undertaking on our Floyd County slopes, let me tell ya!

Here's Fred's working theory: the leg heist, in addition to marking maleness in a general way, indicates the SIZE of the pee-er by the height of the scent on the firehyrdrant, saying: I'm here, and I'm THIS TALL... bigger'n you. Top Dog, so to speak. So, no wonder Buster seemed so sullen when he had to squat... sending the message that he was the lowest ranking guy canine on Goose Creek. The higher the mark on the tree, the higher the status. Pee on the ground: a sissy.

There is a human corollary to the theory. It has to do with the kid I knew in second grade, Phillip Jackson, who could whiz all the way over two stalls who gained school-wide fame in so doing. The working hypothesis: there exists a statistical correlation between this ability to leave 'high marks' and the male's territorial status later in life (I'm here and I'm bigger than you). The experiment takes the form of a controlled test requiring 1) large quantities of iced tea; and 2) a sample of forty male subjects across the spectrum of dominance-subordinance... i.e., the Pecking Order. You can pick up the experimental methods here and understand outcome measures, et cetera.

Dr. Jackson, sir, if you're out there somewhere reading this from the posh sunlight-flooded penthouse office of your world headquarters... sir, I'm curious. Can you still do that?

Posted by fred1st at February 12, 2003 05:36 AM | TrackBack

Uh, Fred, shouldn't that be "Pecker Order"?

Posted by: sainteros at February 12, 2003 11:36 AM

Your working theory is strongly supported by the behavior of male Jack Russell terriers, who back up to the tree or wall, do a "handstand" on their front legs and pee up, thus leaving a mark three or more times the height of the dog.

Posted by: Dave Trowbridge at February 12, 2003 04:35 PM

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