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Solutions to Canine Marking Behavior

When dogs relieve themselves on fire hydrants, carpet, and even their owner’s bed or clothing, it may have nothing to do with house training.

An unhappy dog owner discusses her young rescued terrier, “He is fully house trained, and up until now, we’ve had no problems. However, over the last week, he has peed on our bed….”

Another dog owner laments his female Lhasa Apso, “… she’s peeing on the bed, we had thought maybe she was mad at us but even when we are home and give her more attention she will do it, and it is getting worse….”

These problems indicate that dog owners are puzzled but want to understand what their pet is trying to communicate to them.

Medical or Behavioral?

Inappropriate urination can sometimes indicate a urinary tract infection or some other disease-causing frequent urination, increased water intake due to hot weather, or simply waiting too long to go outside. Any of these can cause accidents. In some cases, the behavior can become a habit even after the problem is solved. Other accidents may be due to excitement, submissiveness, or relapse in house training.

However, in the form of urine marking, some dogs place their ‘signature’ and add personal touches to territory or property they perceive to be theirs in the hopes that outsiders will stay away. To understand this better, think of an occupied house displaying neat flower beds, yard ornaments, and likely having a deed or contract with a signature to back it all up. Strangers know that this house is home to someone and will, hopefully, respect it.

Dominant dogs, both male and female may mark large areas such as the entire park where they take walks. Others may keep only their yard or the doorway to the home or even just their owners’ clothing or bed.

When a dog who is reliably potty trained begins leaving doggy graffiti all over the house, there are likely some territorial issues going on. Perhaps it could be compared to the building of urban privacy fences that are not seen on sprawling ranches.

  • Has anything changed in the house? Did someone or a pet move in or move out? Have you had guests?
  • Is there a new item in the house, such as carpet, furniture, or clothing?
  • Are there any new scents in the neighborhood, such as a new animal that may also be visible from a window?
  • Is there a new mail carrier or meter reader?
  • Are there any unfamiliar sounds in the neighborhood, such as a remodeling project?

What to Do:

  • Has your dog been examined by a veterinarian?
  • Remove, if appropriate, the thing that is causing your dog’s anxiety.
  • Build confidence in your dog, and counteract his insecurities through socialization and obedience classes.
  • Have your dog spayed/neutered to eliminate marking advertisements for a mate. The earlier, the better, as this can become a learned behavior over time.
  • Clean with a 1:4 vinegar water solution or specially formulated urine odor eliminator to discourage repeats.

What to Avoid:

  • Avoid hitting the dog. He will not understand that it is for marking and will become confused and even more stressed. It may also cause him to be afraid to potty with you when you take him out, leading to hidden surprises in the house.
  • Do not mistake thinking your dog is angry and trying to ‘get even.’ He’s only marking what he wants to protect.