One of the most frustrating dog owner rites of passage is pulling your favorite shirt out of the laundry basket and discovering your dog has urinated in it. Dogs do a lot of strange things, but to a dog, urinating on his owner's clothes makes perfect sense.
Puppies have little control over their bladders and can usually only go two to three hours without a potty break. Puppies left alone are likely to pee in locations that smell familiar, and your clothing can be a prime target. This is not a deliberate attempt to upset you; it's simply a puppy finding a way to use the bathroom that feels safe to her.
Dogs -- particularly male dogs -- are highly territorial and tend to mark things they think are theirs with urine. In many cases, dogs choose to mark their owners' clothing because it smells like their territory. This is a way for the dog to establish what is his. Many dog owners mistakenly label this behavior as aggressive dominance, but in reality, it's simply a failure of supervision and potty training. Dogs who are fully housebroken, who receive adequate attention and who are not given opportunities to mark their owners' clothes avoid this behavior.
When dogs are house trained, they frequently seek out a hidden location when they have a bathroom emergency their owners aren't tending to. Clothes are often in hidden locations -- laundry baskets, closets and corners. They are also soft, and many dogs prefer to urinate on soft substances, making clothing a prime target.
Dogs with separation anxiety are substantially more likely to urinate on their owner's clothes. This is a nervous, submissive habit. A dog with separation anxiety panics when her owner is not around and may become destructive. Because your clothing smells like you and because your dog is fearful because you are not around, she may gravitate toward urinating on clothing. Punishing this behavior will increase anxiety and make it worse.
- Canine Behavior; Bonnie Beaver
- The Humane Society of the United States: Urine-Marking: Why Dogs Mark Their Territory
- The Humane Society of the United States: Separation Anxiety
- Way to Go! How to Housetrain a Dog of Any Age; Patricia McConnell, et al.
Brenna Davis is a professional writer who covers parenting, pets, health and legal topics. Her articles have appeared in a variety of newspapers and magazines as well as on websites. She is a court-appointed special advocate and is certified in crisis counseling and child and infant nutrition. She holds degrees in developmental psychology and philosophy from Georgia State University.