Have you ever owned a monogrammed towel or some other item with your initials on it? Or maybe you have a sign on your mailbox or your front door sporting your family name. We humans tell the world that something belongs to us by attaching a label.
Many dogs also like to advertise that a certain object or place is theirs. However, the doggie way to proclaim ownership doesn’t involve labeling — it involves scent, specifically urine.
Urine marking is a challenge for dog parents to deal with. Unlike simple accidents, which may indicate a need for some further housebreaking or more frequent potty breaks, urine marking is territorial behavior. It can be more than a little baffling when a completely potty trained pooch is still peeing on things in the house.
Thankfully, there things you can do to change your dog’s habits. But before you take steps to deal with your dog’s urine marking, you should check with your vet to rule out any possible medical causes for the behavior. Conditions like bladder or urinary tract infections can cause a dog to urinate frequently and need to be treated promptly.
Why Do They Do it?
Dogs are not spiteful or vindictive, so urine marking is never a sign that they are trying to “get back at you” for something. Instead, it’s usually brought on by something that they perceive to be a threat to their territory. Here are some of the most common reasons for urine marking:
- Not being spayed or neutered. Although it occurs much more frequently in males, some females will also mark their territory, especially if they are “unaltered.” At times, even spayed or neutered dogs will urine mark in response to an intact animal in the home.
- Unfamiliar objects in the house. New (or new to you) furniture, carpeting, or even a guest’s jacket or purse may trigger the need to mark — especially if they carry the scent of another animal.
- New people in the house. A new roommate, significant other, or baby may trigger urine marking. Putting his scent on things that belong to them is a dog’s way of reminding them that the house is his.
- Establishing dominance. If he’s in conflict with another dog, or even a cat, your dog may be having trouble establishing his place in the pack. He might begin marking his territory as a way to gain the upper paw.
- Contact with unfamiliar animals. Hanging out at the dog park, encountering other dogs on walks, or even seeing other animals through the window can cause some dogs to mark their own territory.
- Anxiety. In some cases, new objects or people in the home, furniture, luggage, or conflict with other animals or people could cause anxiety that leads to urine marking.
How to Stop it
Depending on the reason for your dog’s urine marking, one or more of these approaches may be the right one for you.
- Spay or neuter your dog. This will reduce or eliminate urine marking in many dogs. As many as 50-60% of male dogs stop urine marking, or at least do it significantly less often, after being neutered.
- Talk to your vet about how to resolve dominance issues between pets.
- Clean areas that have been marked with an enzymatic cleaner meant for removing pet stains and odors. This will remove the scent and prevent remarking.
- Limit your dog’s ability to see animals outside. If you can’t block access to windows or doors that allow him to view other animals passing by, you may be able to discourage them from approaching your house.
- Keep your dog away from areas where he has marked before.
- Change the meaning of the place where he tends to mark. Leave treats around and feed and play with your dog in the area he marks — he’s less likely to continue marking there.
- If his marking is in response to a new person in the house, have that person make friends by feeding and playing with your dog. If the new arrival is a baby, give your dog lots of treats, toys, and attention when the baby is around.
- Establish yourself as the pack leader. One way to do this is to teach your dog basic commands such as “sit” or “lie down” and then have him obey one of these commands before he’s fed or taken for a walk.
- Move objects he has marked so that they are out of reach, and keep guests’ belongings and new purchases safely stashed away.
- Try a synthetic hormone diffuser (DAP or dog appeasement pheromones.) These have a calming effect on some dogs and can reduce the urge to mark.
- If your dog’s marking is caused by anxiety, talk to your vet about ways to treat it.
What Not to Do
Never punish your dog for marking, even if you discover it after only a short time. He won’t make the connection between his actions and your disapproval, which could lead to confusion or fear. However, if you catch him in the act, it’s okay to take actions (such as loud clapping) to discourage him from continuing.
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