Taking your dog for a walk is one of the most enjoyable activities between human and canine. Both of you get some much needed fresh air and exercise, and your pup has the chance to do their business. And of course, it gives your dog an opportunity to do doggie things. Like when your dog stares directly at you as they poop.
But that might not be the strangest thing your dog does when they poop. Because after they defecate, some dogs also do something else. Have you noticed that your dog kicks the ground right after they poop? They plant their front legs, then use their hind legs to furiously kick behind them, sometimes sending grass, dirt, or debris flying. What is that about? Why do they do that?
Kicking their hind legs is another way to mark their territory
According to the American Kennel Club, some humans incorrectly assume that when dogs kick their feet, they are trying to clean up or cover their feces. However, that's not what's happening. The kicking is actually a way to mark their territory and let other dogs know that they've been there.
Carlo Siracusa, a veterinary behaviorist at the University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine, spoke to Live Science about these behaviors and why dogs do them. He explained that dogs basically achieve three things with their kicking. First, they look tough and possibly threatening while they're engaged in the behavior, in case any outside threats are watching. Second, they're leaving their marks on the ground for dogs who happen by the same spot later. And third, kicking this way leaves behind a powerful scent, also letting other dogs know they were there.
Dogs' paws produce powerful pheromones to communicate to other dogs
Humans might assume that a dog's poop and pee are enough to mark their territory, but there's another scent they want to leave behind for other dogs. According to the American Kennel Club, dogs have special glands in their feet that secrete pheromones. These pheromones are powerful; in fact, they actually last longer than urine or feces.
Merriam-Webster defines a pheromone as "a chemical substance that is usually produced by an animal and serves especially as a stimulus to other individuals of the same species for one or more behavioral responses." So, dogs leave this long-lasting chemical substance behind to communicate to other canines that this territory belongs to them.
Making territorial claims is mostly based on evolution
Why are our dogs so obsessed with marking their territory? Well, that goes back to their wild ancestors. Siracusa told Live Science that studies have observed wolves and coyotes doing this same behavior, suggesting that some wild animals use this kicking behavior to spread pheromones to let any rival packs know whose territory they're on.
Should you be concerned when your dog kicks the ground?
Hearing about wolves and coyotes kicking the ground to create their territory might sound aggressive or concerning. But with domestic dogs, that's probably not quite the way to interpret the behavior. Siracusa explains that dogs are probably more likely leaving messages than aggressively controlling territory. He emphasizes that he has observed this behavior most often in nervous, anxious dogs.
Kicking the ground after a poop is a classic dog behavior that allows them to leave their mark behind for other dogs to find. But, overall, this isn't necessarily a behavior in need of correcting. Your dog is kicking the ground to send a message to other dogs, but in their domesticated world, it's more an FYI than a challenge. While it might be a little weird, it's not dangerous or problematic. So the next time you're on a walk, let your pup kick away.