Features September 2009 Issue

When Your Dog's Urine Marking Becomes a Problem

Five things to do when your dog . . . “marks” in the house.

Marking is not the same behavior as “my bladder is full and I have to pee.” Housetraining is just a matter of teaching your dog when and where to relieve himself. In contrast, marking is primarily a stress- or anxiety-related behavior, far more complex and challenging than housetraining. An occasional female will mark, but the culprits here are primarily male dogs. Here are five suggestions for dealing with marking behavior:

1.)Manage your dog’s behavior with closed doors, baby gates, leashes, crates, and exercise pens so he doesn’t have the opportunity to mark in another room undetected. If you catch him “in the act,” interrupt him with a cheerful “Oops!” and take him outside. While marking is not the same as housetraining, you can still send him the message that he’s allowed to mark outdoors, but not indoors.

2.)Reduce his stress levels. Identify and remove as many stressors as possible. This includes eliminating the use of aversives in training or behavior modification and removing known stressors from his environment, as well as counter-conditioning and desensitization to stimuli that trigger fear, anxiety, arousal, or aggression responses in your dog. Hence the importance of not using verbal or physical punishment or trying to frighten him if you catch him in the act; you’ll be adding stress, and could actually increase the marking behavior as a result.

Urine Marking

It’s one thing outside, but urine “marking” indoors must be stopped!

Other useful tools for stress reduction include calming massage; aromatherapy; Comfort Zone (DAP, a synthetic substance that mimics the calming pheromones emitted by a mother dog when she’s nursing puppies); and Through a Dog’s Ear – a CD of classical music specifically selected for its calming effects on dogs.

3.)Thoroughly clean any soiled spots with an enzymatic product designed to clean up animal waste. Use a black light to find untreated spots. This will help you find undetected soiled spots from your own dog as well as dogs who may have lived in your home before you and your dog moved in – a common trigger for marking. Do not use ammonia-based products to clean! Urine contains ammonia and the ammonia in the cleaning products may actually inspire your dog to urinate on the spot where the ammonia-based product was used.

4.)Get him neutered. While this doesn’t always reduce or eliminate marking, it can help, especially if done sooner rather than later. Testosterone can be a significant stressor, particularly if there are females in season and/or other male dogs in the neighborhood.

5.)Use a belly band. This is a soft band of cloth with a Velcro fasterner, which you can wrap around your dog’s abdomen. For some dogs, the band inhibits marking behavior entirely. Others will happily soil the belly band, (you can attach a self-adhesive absorbent feminine pad to the inside the band to absorb the urine) but at least it protects your home environment from urine stains and odors. Change the pad as needed.

Note:Veterinary behaviorist Dr. Nick Dodman of Tufts University suggests that well-practiced marking behaviors can often only be resolved with the use of behavior modification drugs. If you are not successful in your efforts to modify and manage your dog’s marking, make an appointment with a behavior-savvy veterinarian to discuss the possibility of using anti-anxiety medication.

Your vet can also consult with a veterinary behaviorist elsewhere in the country by phone. You can find contact information for veterinary behaviorists at dacvb.org or avsabonline.org.

Pat Miller, CPDT, is Whole Dog Journal’s Training Editor and author of many books on positive dog training. See page 24 for book purchase and contact information.

Comments (2)

My two year old male Havanese never engaged in "marking" until I had a house guest with a 12 year old male who marked in the backyard. Then my guy had to do it too. Not a problem outside, but he started doing it indoors too, If an object was moved to a new place or was new to the house, he peed on it. I had workers in to remodel my kitchen and he even marked on their toolboxes if they left them on the floor. But we never caught him doing it. Once the new cabinets were installed, I placed a small bowl of kibble at each corner or leg he might go for, and he didn't mark! I'm going to leave these small bowls down for a couple of months and then see what happens once they are removed.

Posted by: PATRICIA A | February 12, 2012 6:49 PM    Report this comment

I have a female Basset Hound, approximately 7 years old (she is a resue dog), spayed, who urinates on any dog bed that is laying on the floor. She has even urinated on piles of laundry that are waiting to go into the washing machine! If it's on the floor, she's going to mark it as hers! She has even urinated on my bed when I allowed her to get up there one time. She never does the marking when I am present in the room....she literally seems to wait until she knows I'm not paying attention to where she's wandering around, and will take that opporutnity to go do the deed.

Jackie is one of 4 Basset Hounds, and she's a bit of a bully, too. She will lay in a doorway to prevent the other dogs from being able to get to the room I'm in, and will give a warning growl if one of the other dogs gets too close to her when she is lying on the couch or chair.

Do you have any suggestions, or can you elaborate some more on female marking issues? Can a female dog have a higher-than-normal level of testosterone that could cause this kind of marking as I've described?

Thank you for any input or elaboration you can provide regarding female marking.

Posted by: TXBassetmom | July 12, 2010 1:48 AM    Report this comment

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