Why Dogs “Mark their Territory” in the House

Yesterday we looked at many different reasons why a house-trained adult dog would suddenly begin urinating in the house. If you have ruled out any medical conditions then consider that your dog may be “marking his territory.” It is well known that dogs are territorial animals. They let other animals know what areas belong to them by urinating in a certain spot.

Your dog may be urine-marking if the issue is mostly urination. Dogs rarely mark with feces. Markings are a small amount of urine found principally on walls, cabinets and other vertical surfaces for male leg lifters. Even if your dog is a squatter not a lifter, she may still be marking with urine. Non-spayed or non-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. One clear sign is when your dog urinates on things that are newly introduced to the house (a new piece of furniture, your friend’s purse, or new baby’s belongings); on things that have unusual odors, or on things that smell of another dog or cat. Another common scenario is when your dog 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

In order to reduce the odds of your dog urine marking in the home, spay or neuter him 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 continue. Also, take care of fights or dominance issues between your dogs. Having a healthy pack structure in your home where you are the pack leader is essential to eliminate dog behavior issues including. If your dogs marking is triggered by dogs being walked by your house or other animals, try to limit your dog’s ability to see these 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 especially for pet stains to discourage the dog from returning to this 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. Try to 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, spouse, new baby, 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. 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. Be patient and help your dog to learn that the new arrival can be a bundle of joy for him as well.

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, put him in the crate, or place him in a small room where he hasn’t urine-marked. Another option is to put him on his leash and hook the leash to you to provide consistent accountability.

Make your dog work for his treats and rewards. 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 obedience commands such as sit, stay, or down. Have him 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.

As tempting as it is, do not seek to punish your pooch for urine marking. After he has done his deed, he will not be able to make the connection that the behavior was what warranted it and you will create a dog who is fearful of his handler. While urine marking is often associated with dominance issues, anxiety can also be an option. An anxious 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.

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