Understanding urine-marking

Dogs are territorial animals. That is a fact, and when they want to say “this is my spot,” they tell other people and animals by marking it using an assortment of ways. One of the most common examples is when your dog barks to warn potential interlopers that they are about to trespass on his grounds. Some dogs will take this territory marking to the next level by urinating (or defecating, which is uncommon) in a certain spot.

Urine-marking behavior is not a problem of housebreaking; he is purposefully marking his territory. So, to solve it, you need to look for the underlying issue that drives your dog’s need to mark his territory like this. First, though, take your dog into the vet to ensure there isn’t a medical issue behind it.

Is it just house soiling or a urine-marking problem?

Your dog may be urine-marking if:

  • The issue is mostly urination. Dogs rarely mark with feces.
  • It is a small amount of urine found principally on walls, cabinets and other vertical surfaces. (Dogs may occasionally mark on horizontal surfaces.) Leg-lifting is the most common sign of urine-marking, but even if your dog is a squatter not a lifter, she may still be marking with urine.
  • He is not spayed or neutered. Intact dogs are more likely to mark their territory. However, even spayed or neutered dogs will mark if there are other intact pets in the house.
  • He urinates on things that are newly introduced to the house (a new piece of furniture, your friend’s purse); on things that have unusual odors, or on things that smell of another dog or cat.
  • He is clashing with another dog or cat in the house. When a “pack” is not getting along, your dog may urinate in an attempt to establish dominance over the others.
  • He is a roamer or has regular contact with other dogs on walks or at dog parks. After a walk or outside play time with other dogs, your dog may feel the need to urine-mark when he returns to re-establish territory; this can occur even he sees another dog through a door or window.
  • He urine-marks frequently on walks. If he stops at every tree, telephone pole, and bush, this is marking and he could bring it home with him.

What to do about urine-marking

  • Spay or neuter your dog as soon as your vet recommends. Spaying or neutering could stop marking completely, but, if your dog has urine-marked for quite awhile prior to spaying or neutering, the behavior may be ingrained.
  • Take care of fights or dominance issues between your dogs.
  • Limit your dog’s ability to see outside animals from inside your house. If you can’t keep your dog from the windows or doors, try to control the presence of other animals outside the house. There are sprays and plants that can help.
  • When urine-marking occurs, clean the area immediately. Clean with a stain and odor remover made for pet stains. Commercial carpet cleaners or home cleaning agents may contain perfumes that will just attract your dog back to the same spot.
  • In areas where your dog has urinated try to keep him from it or take away the attraction. For example, if he has urine-marked a house plant, move the plant to another spot he can’t get to. If you can’t do this, try to change the meaning of those spots to your pet. If you feed or play with your dog in those spots, he will be less likely to remark there.
  • Keep things that could encourage your dog to mark out of reach. Items such as visitors’ possessions and new things should be placed in a closet or cabinet for a while.
  • If your pet is urine-marking in reaction to an addition to your household (i.e., a new roommate, boy/girlfriend, spouse etc.), have that person and your dog get to know each other. Have them feed and play with your dog. With a new baby, give him lots of positive reinforcement, treats and toys when the baby is around.
  • Learn the signs that indicate your dog is about to urinate and watch for them when he is inside. If he starts, stop him by clapping or making other loud noises and bring him out to the yard. If he goes, praise him and give him a treat. If you find yourself in situations where you can’t keep an eye on him, crate him or place him in a small room where he hasn’t urine-marked. Another option from puppy training techniques is to put him on his leash and hook the leash to you.
  • Use the “nothing in life is free” behavior with your dog. This is a safe, non-challenging way to show you are the leader. It works on the premise that your dog must work for what he wants. Teach him basic commands (sit, stay, down) and then teach him he must perform one of these commands before routine things like feeding or walks. Making it known to your dog that you are the leader will help to establish the hierarchy and reduce his need to urine-mark.

Don’t punish

Don’t punish your dog after he has already urine-marked. He won’t make the connection even if you try to punish him a short while after he does it.

Dogs are not people. They don’t urinate or defecate out of malice or resentment. If your dog urinates on your new baby’s stuffed toy, it isn’t from spite or jealousy. The unusual odors and noises of a new baby in the house are driving him to remark his territory and the new things in it.

Dominance or apprehension?

Urine-marking is commonly linked with dominance behavior. Yet marking may also come from a feeling of apprehension or distress. A new boyfriend in your house also brings a new voice, new odors, and even an altered routine. Your dog may not get as much attention as he did before. All of this can upset him enough and drive him to urine-marking.

Similarly, an apprehensive dog may be stressed further by the sight and smells of other animals. If your dog is feeling overly stressed, think about talking to your vet about medications that may help while you work on his behavior through training.

Source: Adapted from the HSUS