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Why Does My Dog Keep Randomly Flashing His Red Rocket?

Advice from an animal reproduction specialist, an evolutionary biologist and a veteran veterinarian

Parenting a pet, no matter what kind, can be a frustrating and bewildering experience. Animals can’t tell you what they want and need (directly, at least), so we’re here to help you answer any questions you have about your favorite companion — whether they be furry, slimy, feathered, scaly or anything in between — with insight from the experts. This is “Basic Bitch,” an advice column for pet parents who just want the best for their best friend.

The Very Basic Concern

I was watching some Forensic Files on Netflix earlier today, and my dog was just chilling on the couch next to me — nothing out of the ordinary for us. While some police dude was talking about how none other than the husband (shocker!) was the murderer, I caught a glimpse of lipstick red in the corner of my eye. So I turned and looked over at my dog and he had a Full Richard right there on the couch. He was sitting there, smug, with his extended Johnson pointing toward the computer screen.

Now, either my dog is horny for true crime, or he had something else on his mind, but admittedly, there have been other times when he seemingly randomly pops a boner, and I never really know what to do. How do I get him to put it the hell away, and why is he sticking it out while I watch Netflix, anyway? Also, why is it so damn red

Basically: Why does my dog keep casually displaying his erection, and can (or should) I do anything about it?

The Expert Advice

Victor Stora, theriogenologist (a specialist in animal reproductive systems): When you look at a male dog, externally, the skin portion is the prepuce — one can think of this as the foreskin. Within the sheath, or prepuce, is the penis, which is the red part. When a male dog achieves an erection, the penis will be externalized from the prepuce, and then what you see is his “red part,” “lipstick” or whatever. The canine penis can never be fully flaccid, because there’s a bone within the penis; the “os penis,” which allows enough of an erection for a male dog to achieve intromission.

Sometimes, the penis will be externalized for behavioral reasons that don’t pertain to sexual excitation. Excitation of any origin can cause the penis to have some degree of an erection, and therefore, come out of the prepuce. Anxiety, fear, excitation and joy (our perception of what they may be feeling, at least) can all have the penis come out of the prepuce, which often isn’t linked sexually to their owner or another animal. Some diseases will also look like this, so if your dog has an increased frequency of the penis coming out of the sheath, rather than staying in, or he’s never had that happen, it can be a sign of disease and may need treatment.

An owner shouldn’t try any methods of placing the penis into the sheath unless consulting a veterinarian. The penis of a dog isn’t covered in thick skin, hence the prepuce for protection — it’s delicate, and manipulation may traumatize the tissues. It also likes to bleed a lot if traumatized. Reading the internet, I often find that there’s a 30/70 shot that you may do something helpful, and other times, you may cause more issues because many diseases look alike. I like when owners call and ask questions. I can answer their question to either come in, or monitor the situation, saving them a visit or addressing the issue rapidly. When owners do too much at home, it muddies the waters, and then I don’t know if it’s a true issue at that point.

You can’t necessarily train them to put it away, but you can train them to sort of calm down, which would help decrease how often the penis comes out.

Marc Bekoff, professor emeritus of ecology and evolutionary biology at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and author of more than 1,000 essays on animal behavior, including his book Canine Confidential: Why Dogs Do What They Do: My impression is that they stick it out and have no control over when they do it — when they’re excited, not only sexually, but when they’re just generally aroused. I can’t think of any way that they could be trained to put it away. It’s similar to an involuntary response, like when the hair on a dog’s back sticks up when they’re excited.

Jerry Klein, chief veterinary officer at the American Kennel Club: The penis inside the sheath is red because it’s covered in a mucous membrane — similar to the tissue on the gums or the insides the eyelids — which is bright pink or red.

Dogs, like men, don’t have to be mating to become aroused. Even dogs that are neutered can have erections. However, there are certain medical conditions, such as spinal or neurological issues, prostatic issues or unusual anatomical issues that can cause the penis to not be able to retreat into the prepuce as it should.

If your dog’s penis becomes erect and visible for a period of a few minutes, but then returns to being fully enclosed within the prepuce and all else seems to be normal, you probably don’t have anything to worry about. If it doesn’t seem to be retracting in a few minutes, an owner should look to make sure there’s nothing causing the prevention of the penis retracting back into the prepuce. Sometimes, just gently pulling the sheath forward with your fingers — forward over the penis — allows the penis to retract into its normal position. Placing the penis in a cup of cool water may also help.

However, sometimes there are instances where the penis can’t retract normally back into the prepuce, and dogs have a persistent erection, called priapism. There can be various causes of priapism: Some long-haired dogs have hair that can mechanically block the opening to the sheath, and it prevents the penis from sliding back into the sheath. This is more common in some of the long-haired small and toy breeds. In this case, an owner can try to manually and gently maneuver the hair using clean (and preferably gloved) hands out of the sheath, and try to allow the penis to naturally retract back into its normal anatomical position.

Prolonged priapism can be a concern, as it can also cause the penis to become even more engorged and can lead to a medical emergency where the dog will have difficulty urinating, as well as potentially causing permanent damage to the penis, and in some extreme instances, necessitating amputation of the penis. So, always contact your veterinarian with any questions if your dog’s penis is extruding out of the sheath for any prolonged period longer than a few minutes.