How to Stop Dogs From Marking Their Territory

Urine marking is not a "potty training" issue.

Urine marking is not a "potty training" issue.

While urine marking outdoors appears to be a harmless, almost innocent behavior, things change dramatically when Rover decides to lift his leg on your favorite couch, expensive rug or antique Victorian chair. Don't pull your hair out in desperation; luckily, there are some steps you can take before getting bald.

Stop by your veterinarian to rule out any medical conditions. If your dog has started suddenly urinating inappropriately, an underlying medical condition may be the culprit. Urinary tract infections, bladder stones and conditions that increase urine volume such as such as diabetes or kidney disease are some common medical causes for urination problems in dogs. It is, therefore, wrong to always assume Rover is acting up when you notice a behavior change or witness something you cannot explain. "Many medical problems in pets do masquerade as bad behavior," veterinarian and animal behaviorist Dr. Sophia Yin explains. The moral of the story? It's best to see your veterinarian to play it safe.

Determine the exact cause for the urine marking. After ruling out medical problems, your next step is start a bit of investigative work. In some cases, dogs may mark out of stress. For instance, if you recently moved rearranged furniture, have a guest over or a new addition such as a baby or new pet, your dog may mark over certain items to simply make them "smell familiar again." In other cases your dog may urinate mostly when excited or upon being scolded. If this sounds all too familiar, most likely you are dealing with submissive or excitement urination. On the other hand, some dogs urinate exclusively when left alone during the day, which may be a sign of separation anxiety. Consult with a professional for an appropriate diagnosis and behavior modification program.

Confirm your dog is actually marking territory. After ruling out medical problems and other potential behavioral causes for inappropriate urination, chances are your dog is marking territory to leave "pee messages" to the world. Just as you label your belongings or erect a fence to set your property's boundaries, dogs claim their territory and belongings by scent marking with urine. The most common marking candidate is an intact male dog, but it is not unheard of for some neutered and spayed dogs to mark as well. Generally, urine marking may start as early as 3 months of age, with most dogs marking by the time they turn 2 years old. The typical "modus operandi" of a urine marker is to repeatedly eliminate small dribbles of urine by lifting the leg on vertical objects.

Consider neutering or spaying your dog. A good part of urine marking in dogs is driven by hormones. Intact male dogs tend to mark their territory when they detect the presence of female dogs or rival males. Intact females, on the other hand, tend to mark when they are nearing heat and need to "advertise" their sexual availability. To reduce the chances of developing the habit of marking territory, consider that a little snip can really make a big difference. Neutering, indeed, may reduce household urine marking in 50 to 60 percent of cases, according to the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

Manage your dog's environment. Keeping an eagle eye on Rover will make him less likely to mark on your beloved items. As much as this sounds like common sense, management is often overlooked. A good strategy is to keep your dog on an "umbilical cord," basically, leashed to you during the day when he is inside the home. This allows you to observe every little movement suggesting he is about to make his mark. When you are unable to supervise, keep him momentarily in a crate or a pen and preferably occupied with a keep-busy toy such as a stuffed Kong.

Invest in a belly band. Not many dog owners are aware of this product, which can make life much easier and save them from lots of headaches. Belly bands are basically body wraps your male dog can wear, preventing him from marking on your precious household items. Some come in really vivacious and funky designs. While belly bands will not stop your dog from marking, they will prevent urine from leaking onto furniture, carpets and floors while you work on training better behaviors.

Clean up areas your dog has previously marked or areas other dogs may have marked. As much as this feels like tedious job, it works on preventing your dog from wanting to mark these areas over and over. The choice of product used to clean up messes can really make a difference. An enzyme-based product is recommended as it will help neutralize and eliminate traces of odors. Completely wetting the area with such a product will work best in removing odors, but make sure you store these products properly, according to dog trainer and author Chris Puls.

Make areas or objects your dog has previously marked inaccessible. Marking on certain items may quickly become a habit if you do not break the pattern in a timely manner. If Rover likes to mark on your tires, park the car far way or keep it in a garage. If he marks on a broom, keep it stored elsewhere. If the problem area is the front door, install a baby gate to prevent access to it. Keeping commonly marked objects away keeps Rover out of trouble.

Train your dog to exclusively eliminate and mark outdoors or limit his marking behavior only to specific areas. To set Rover up for success, you will need a combination of approaches. If you closely supervise your dog, effectively clean up accidents, manage his environment and train him to eliminate or mark only in specific areas, your effort will be rewarded with reduced urine marking after some time. Make sure you always praise and reward your dog with high-value treats every time he marks or urinates in his designated areas. With time, patience and consistency, urine marking in unwanted areas should become a problem of the past ... and hopefully, so will your hair pulling.

Items you will need

  • Collar
  • Leash
  • Crate
  • Kong
  • Belly bands
  • Treats

Tips

  • Watch your dog when he marks outside so you can learn to read "pre-marking" signs and intervene accordingly when he is about to mark inside the home.
  • A dog that marks uses a relatively small amount of urine, whereas, a dog with a house-soiling problem will urinate in larger amounts to empty the bladder.
  • If your dog is marking due to stress, consult with a veterinary behaviorist.

Warnings

  • Avoid using ammonia-based cleaning products to clean up messes.
  • Belly bands should be considered a temporary fix, not a permanent solution.
  • Punishment will not stop your dog from marking; it will just stop your dog from marking when you are around.
  • Don't let urine marking become a habit or it will be a more difficult behavior to extinguish over time.
 

About the Author

Adrienne Farricelli has been writing for magazines, books and online publications since 2005. She specializes in canine topics, previously working for the American Animal Hospital Association and receiving certification from the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers. Her articles have appeared in "USA Today," "The APDT Chronicle of the Dog" and "Every Dog Magazine." She also contributed a chapter in the book " Puppy Socialization - An Insider's Guide to Dog Behavioral Fitness" by Caryl Wolff.

Photo Credits

  • dog in a cage image by igor kisselev from Fotolia.com