INDOOR URINE MARKING: OVERVIEW
1. Employ alert, active supervision of your dog. Any time you are not watching him, use a management tool (such as a crate, gate, exercise pen, or belly band) to prevent him or her from marking.
2. Consider what might be adding to your dog’s stress. Menace from another dog? A lack of structure? A smoke alarm chirp, incessantly warning of a low battery? Remove any stressors you can.
3. Use an enzymatic cleaner on every location that has been “marked.” Your dog’s nose is far stronger than yours, and even the tiniest whiff of urine may serve as a prompt for him to mark again. Use a black light to make sure you haven’t missed any spots that need to be cleaned.
Tinkle, tinkle, little Pug, must you mark upon my rug? Or the side of the couch? Or the leg of the coffee table?
Many dog owners are familiar with a dog’s unwanted usage of “pee mail,” more accurately known as “urine marking.” While this leg lifting is a perfectly normal behavior, “normal” does not mean “acceptable” when it comes to the peaceful cohabitation of humans and canines.
Marking is different from urination; a dog urinates to relieve his bladder of the sensation of feeling full. In contrast, marking does not involve full evacuation of the bladder; instead, the dog releases a small amount of urine as a communication strategy. Urine contains pheromones, chemicals that provide critical information regarding a dog’s age, gender, health, and reproductive status – all very interesting and important olfactory reading if you’re a dog. This is why dogs are so intent on smelling where other dogs have fully eliminated or marked.
Marking is most common in, but not limited to, male dogs, and typically begins at puberty. Depending on the breed (small breeds mature faster than large breeds), this usually happens around six to nine months of age. As male dogs begin to sexually mature, the increased presence of testosterone encourages the signaling of sexual ability and territory marking. Dogs who are neutered around six months of age are less likely to urine mark, or mark less often, compared to intact dogs or dogs who are neutered later. That’s not to say all unaltered dogs mark. As with many things, training goes a long way toward preventing marking among all dogs.
Acceptable Urine Marking
When out in the world, urine marking is like social media. Watch your dog while on a walk. Each time he stops and sniffs, he’s “reading” the canine equivalent of a Twitter feed. Think of your own social media habits. Some posts you quickly read and move on to the next interesting tidbit. Some posts you “like.” Some posts inspire you to post a reply or comment of your own! Well, your dog makes similar choices. So long as he’s using his urine-based social media responsibly, we see no problem with this behavior, as it gives your dog, and those who happen by at a later time, valuable information.
When Urine Marking Becomes a Problem
Marking inside the house is another story. When dealing with an indoor marker, it’s wise to first make sure you don’t actually have a basic housetraining problem. When young dogs, especially young toy- and small-breed dogs (whose bladders are smaller, resulting in less output, and, often, a need to relieve themselves more frequently), are given too much freedom too soon, they may develop the habit of urinating in the house. This is frequently done out of the owner’s sight, causing the owner to believe the dog is house-trained. When the owner finally catches the dog in the act, the dog is labeled a “marker.” In reality, the dog was never properly house-trained.
As a general rule of thumb, until your new dog or puppy has been accident-free for at least a month (and perhaps as long as three full months!), he should not be allowed to roam the house unsupervised. Adhering to this lengthy benchmark goes a long way toward making sure your dog fully understands the “house rules” of toileting habits.
Marking in Multi-Dog Households
Marking is predominantly a stress- and anxiety-related behavior. Indoor marking is more common in multi-dog households because dogs compete for resources: bones, toys, prime lounging spots, access to humans, etc. This competition can be very subtle, and often goes unnoticed by humans. For example, a pointed glance or sudden stillness by another dog in the household – perhaps guarding a toy or a coveted spot – may seem mild to us, but to an anxious dog, might feel like a much more serious situation (perhaps like the difference between someone directing a mild expletive our way versus flashing a switchblade at us at the ATM). Most confident, well-adjusted dogs handle these normal interactions with ease – both in terms of giving and receiving information. Anxious or insecure dogs can struggle, and, as a result, are more prone to marking as an outlet for that stress.
Other Common Urine Marking Triggers
A sudden change in routine, moving to a new home, short- and long-term houseguests, visiting animals, death of a housemate, worrisome noises outside, unexpected encounters on walks, illness, and even re-arranging the furniture are all things our canine friends might find stressful.
Newly adopted dogs often mark in an attempt to create a sense of familiarity in an otherwise completely foreign environment. A dog you’ve had for a while might mark during or following a visiting animal’s stay in the home, or even mark human guests’ belongings when left out, for similar reasons. “This doesn’t smell familiar . . . . Here, let me take care of that.” Marking becomes an attempt to create a sense of normalcy. It’s like putting your favorite family photo on your desk during your first day on a brand-new job. “See! I do belong here. My stuff is here!”
Like people, our dogs get used to things being a certain way, and, just like people, some dogs handle change better than others. Owners frequently report their dogs started marking out of “spite” following a life change.
But spite and vindictiveness are uniquely human emotions. Dogs just aren’t wired that way. Plus, remember that, to dogs, urine (and feces) is a source of extremely useful information. A puddle of urine or pile of poo is like a page one New York Times article; it’s A-1 reading material! Why would your dog leave you such a gift if he was trying to “get back at you” for something? If you had the powerful nose of your canine companion, you’d look to the scent of your dog’s urine to enlighten you about his emotional state. I think we can all agree we’re glad we aren’t dogs when it comes to this habit. Trust your trainer when she says it’s not spite, it’s stress!
Even stressful run-ins away from home can lead to incidents of marking at home, just as a stressful day at work might cause us to reach for a glass of wine as soon as we head through the door.
For example, if your dog is fearful and finds walks stressful, he might not mark during the walk (since doing so would further announce his presence, and fearful dogs largely prefer to blend in, not stand out), but the residual effects of the stress-inducing event might cause him to mark as a coping mechanism once he returns home.
Medical Reasons for Indoor Peeing
Any time there’s a sudden change in your dog’s behavior, it’s wise to rule out underlying medical reasons for the behavior. No amount of behavior modification will overcome a medical condition. If you can’t easily identify the possible stress-related reason for your dog’s behavior change, we recommend a vet visit. A dog with a urinary tract infection (UTI) can experience an almost constant need to “go,” and will often expel small amounts of urine frequently throughout the day.
How to Stop Your Dog’s Urine Marking
Individually and in combination, the following strategies can help stop the marking:
1. Employ management. The first step in correcting a marking issue involves diligent management in an effort to stop the rehearsal of unwanted behavior. Keep a close eye on your dog – no unsupervised time! – so you’re able to immediately interrupt all attempts to mark and redirect his efforts to “go” outside.
When you can’t supervise, consider confining your dog to an x-pen or crate, or use baby gates to create an area small enough to deter soiling. If marking is limited to a specific room, restrict access to the area for at least a month (the same benchmark as housetraining). Some clients report success moving their dogs’ food and water to the problem area, as most dogs won’t mess where they eat. Often, employing diligent management to prevent the behavior is enough to offer long-term improvement.
2. Reduce stress. Identify events in your dog’s life that might create stress. Some stressors can be tricky. For example, many owners think showering their dogs with endless treats while requiring little in terms of basic obedience is a wonderful way to convey love. Unfortunately, a lack of basic structure often contributes to anxiety, especially in multiple-dog households. While I’m not a fan of rigid “leadership” protocols, I believe dogs do best when taught a basic skillset designed to create a working partnership with their humans, whose job it is to ensure the well being of everyone in the household.
If marking mostly happens when you aren’t home, your dog might be anxious being alone. Be sure to keep departures and arrivals low-key to reduce the tension of an already emotional event for your dog. Teaching your dog to accept time away from you – even when you’re home – can also help reduce anxiety when you leave. (See “Separation Anxiety in Dogs: Symptoms and How to Modify the Behavior,” (October 2016), for more information about separation anxiety and isolation distress.)
Also, be mindful of potentially scary noises that might be causing anxiety – for example, the ear-piercing back-up beep of the garbage truck on trash day. Often, once you’ve identified the trigger, you can successfully counter-condition your dog’s emotional response.
Anxiety can be a tricky issue to overcome. Some dogs respond well to homeopathic remedies or flower essence blends designed to reduce anxiety. Another option is Adaptil, a pheromone-based product available as a plug-in diffuser or a collar. Adaptil products release pheromones involved in the attachment process between a nursing dog and her offspring, offering an olfactory message of comfort and security. In some cases, pharmaceutical intervention might be necessary.
3. Clean soiled areas. Use an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle to thoroughly clean urine spots in the home. Avoid ammonia-based cleaners. Urine contains ammonia, and such products can encourage further marking. If moving into a new home formerly occupied by dogs, consider professionally cleaning or replacing the carpet to reduce your dog’s desire to mark over existing animal scent. If this isn’t possible, use a black light to search for potential problem areas.
4. Consider neutering. While not a guaranteed fix, neutering your dog, especially before he reaches full sexual maturity (12 to 15 months), is likely to reduce or eliminate his tendency to mark by stopping the influence of hormones.
5. Discourage all marking, even outdoors. In some cases, the act of marking becomes a well-practiced habit that remains even after removing environmental stressors or choosing to neuter (especially among dogs neutered later in life). In such cases, I recommend drawing a hard line when it comes to marking, even outdoors. When on a walk, give your dog an opportunity to fully void his bladder, then quickly but casually interrupt all subsequent attempts to leave his calling card throughout the neighborhood. It need not be a dramatic interruption; simply keep walking as your dog attempts to mark, almost like you hadn’t noticed.
(Note: An opposing view holds that thwarting this behavior outside can increase a dog’s stress, especially among anxious dogs. You may have to experiment to learn which approach improves the situation with your dog.)
6. Try a belly band. If you can’t directly supervise or appropriately confine your dog to minimize his marking, a fabric belly band might be helpful. A belly band fits like a tube-top around your dog’s waist, covering his penis. The band often discourages any amount of urination while the garment is on, or, at a minimum, absorbs the urine and protects your home and furniture.
7. Most importantly, don’t punish! Remember that inappropriate marking is a stress response. Calmly interrupting a dog as he’s marking is one thing. Reprimanding him after the fact will make things worse. Unless you intervene as it’s happening, your dog won’t connect your displeasure with his marking. He might look guilty as you reprimand him, but that look is an attempt to appease you in that moment – not because he realizes his marking, which took place however long ago, is unwanted.
Similarly, avoid stern admonishments in situations where he’s likely to mark. “No marking while I’m gone!” or “You leave Grandma’s stuff alone!” will serve only to increase your dog’s anxiety, since he can’t understand your words, but recognizes a harsh, unhappy tone.
Stephanie Colman is a writer and dog trainer in Southern California.
Wonderful article , I’m looking forward to trying some of these techniques
Enjoy reading your articles. Helps me with my 3 dogs problems
Fabulous understanding of a dogs behaviour and great advice.
I do have a dog that protest pees, so for example if i don’t allow him in the same room as me, he will pee, I have three boy dogs, one of which, the eldest, will not even pee in garden, the other two compete against each other and do scent in the house which has resulted in spoiling furniture. We are moving into a brand new house and I need to stop this behaviour before then, any further advice would be helpful
I’m your article you posted that a black light can help you find spots that were marked, however, once cleaned there is no real way to remove the black light glow. We have tried several cleaners to remove the stain so that it won’t show under the light. We cannot tell if it’s an old mark or a new mark. Thoughts?
LOL – I do what dogs do – I sniff!
LMAOOO! Same ! Sometimes I can’t physically see were my pup has “marked his territory” , but I can smell it and then I just sniff it out until I find it! lol.
Black Lights show proteins, so when cleaning with a bacteria-based cleaner you will still see the spot with a blacklight but it should show up much lighter.
My three and a half year old, 12 pound Havapoo, is an unneutered male. He loves all people, but is very aggressive to strange dogs. If introduced slowly, he generally behaves better.
This has been a rough year for Bandit & my family because I was diagnosed with gynecological cancer last December. He is a very smart certified therapy dog, and we would visit Nursing Homes, and libraries before I became ill. Bandit was with me constantly, and I’m sure he absorbed some of the anxiety in our home. He attended every chemo session, along with my husband, and at least one of my 3 sons.
He is now posing a problem of urinating large quantities indoors, although he is let out daily at 6 am, walked 4 times during the day, and let out at 11:30 pm. He is put in a large play pen at night, from around 11:30pm to 6am, or if we leave the house, which is usually for 2-3 hours, or occasionally 5 hours at most. It has room for a large 4 sided bed, a food tray, and wee wee pad, which he never uses. He loves his bed, and his playpen door is left open all day. He goes to bed as soon as he is told, and receives a little treat. Music is left on if we leave the house, but we never make a big thing of leaving. Coming back home we greet each other warmly, and he gets a bit excited.
I am doing very well, and my husband & I like to take little travel breaks. We bring Bandit whenever we can, or leave him with one of my sons where he is much loved, but has started to urinate there too. He has never been left at a boardinghouse.
Last week we took him to our vet to rule out an infection. The test came back negative.
My dog is very much loved and adored, but this is frustrating us. We would appreciate advice as to how to approach this behaviorally.
Thank you for any suggestions you have.
I have used many of the suggestions on my “anxious” male yorkie (I acquired him when he was about 15 months old). Cleaning up with enzyme cleaners, diaper, crate, making noise at the lift of the leg, etc. Then – I begin to trust him, remove the diaper, and let him roam. Then….he pees – in many of the same areas I have previously scrubbed clean using the “correct” cleaners. And yes, I see it as “anxiety” peeing – he see squirrels outside, guests visiting, no one in the room with him, and on and on. While perhaps a magic trainer could work this out, I don’t know how. I haven’t tried meds on him…nor do I know if I would. So – I continue to keep his extra-small diaper on his 5 pound body, and enjoy him as he is.
Oh yes – and addition: He has a pee pad available and knows quite well what it is for – and he does use it. That is why when he pees elsewhere, I know it is out of anxiety.
I have a very small 12 months old chihuahua, 1.5 kl, male not neutered..I got him during lockdown, so he thought only I and my two cats existed ,lol…
One cat he loves, as that cat will let him jump all over him, they play together and are both males…the female cat however, who is the small cat and very sweet, doesn’t like the dog, as the dog is very hyper and she will not let him jump on her or anything…
The dog sleeps in bed with me, the minute the cat jumps on the bed he growls at her, I tell him off with a stern no….
He is an inside dog and has 2 trays, which he does use, so now I know all the urine marks are territorial…the cats were here first, he’s the intruder,lol…he marks the lounge room, I shampoo almost everyday and am so over it now…he marks against the front door, kitchen cupboards, one of the cat scratcher stands…I’m close to having him put down, as my house is getting ruined, I’m a really clean person, and I just can’t continue to sit here and be able to smell urine and then need to shampoo my carpet on a daily basis…
Due to the reproductive status, age of the dog, and his breed, I advise revisiting his housetraining. He’ll need to be kept out of the areas that he has soiled and limited to an non-porous area that is easy to clean and disinfect.
You may want to discuss neutering him with your veterinarian.
There is very good advice within the archives of Whole Dog Journal about all types of behavior issues.
I believe there is also a booklet available for house training specifically.
I have a 5yo male yorkie who has been neutered and puppy pad trained however he constantly marks especially the kitchen trash can by the refrigerator by kitchen entrance and by chester freezer as well as stove..I frequently clean all areas well I keep his pads changed frequently. I’m so tired of mopping and cleaning the floor his urine has caused damage to the floor because he marks in the same areas over and over. I’m about to give up and have him rehomed
Make sure that when you clean these areas you are using a product that will enzymatically dissolve the scent of urine. I would block the areas he’s marking with boxes or cardboard and keep him out of the kitchen for several weeks.
I would also check the rest of the house with the backlight to be certain it’s only occurring in the kitchen.
I can’t believe you would even consider giving up on him just because you are done cleaning dog pee. I have 2 males and 2 females and the males mark a couple of areas in my home, I keep a spray bottle of alcohol mixed with water to sterilize my floor. I love my babies I would never give up for that reason.
I took my puppy from a dog foster home about a year ago. I love him to bits; he has a great personality, and I feel that he loves our family so much. BUT he poops and pees in the house A LOT… So, leaving home is always a challenge for us. My husband and I were thinking about taking him to ‘doggy school’, but then again, it’s extremely expensive, and the nearest ‘doggy school’ is far away from us. Maybe you have some advice? THANK YOU!!!!