Marking Behavior in Dogs
What does it mean if my dog is urinating on upright objects?
by urinating on upright objects.
"Leaving a scent mark with urine is a
normal dog communicative behavior."
Leaving a scent mark
with urine is a normal dog communicative behavior. Marking is most likely to
occur on or near new or novel odors, especially the urine left by other dogs.
The volume of urine used for marking is usually small. The problem is much more
common in intact males, but many neutered males and spayed females also mark
their territory. If your dog marks where other dogs have urinated, when exposed
to new odors, or when entering a strange environment, it may be a form of
territorial marking. This may be more likely to occur if you visit or move into
a new home or if you redecorate or get new furniture. Supervising introductions
or accessibility until your dog gets used to the new smells may be all that is
required in these cases. Dogs that begin to mark in their home environment may
be responding to stress or anxiety. Hormonal influences and sexual arousal,
especially in intact male dogs, may also lead to an increase in marking
How can marking be treated?
"Neutering will reduce male marking
behavior in over 80% of male dogs but will only eliminate it in about 40% of
Neutering will reduce
male marking behavior in over 80% of male dogs but will only eliminate it in
about 40% of dogs. Neutering is also recommended for female dogs that mark
during estrus. Remember that virtually any vertical object that your dog might
sniff and investigate could be a target for marking. Therefore, while the urine
and sexual odors of dogs and other animals might be the strongest stimuli for
marking, your dog might be attracted to any new or novel odor that it detects
along the way.
How do I reduce outdoor marking?
It is likely
impractical to expect to control and limit all marking and elimination behavior
when your dog is taken for walks outdoors. When taking your dog for a walk, you
will need to work on training your dog to walk on a relaxed leash by your side
and to sit each time you come to a stop. For details on how to do this, see our
handouts on 'Training Dogs - Settle and Relaxation Training' and 'Training Dogs –
Controlling Pulling on Walks'. With a leash, or leash and head halter, it should be possible
to keep your dog on task. The leash and head halter controls the muzzle and
nose so that the head can be immediately turned away from the stimulus
(potential target of marking) as it begins to show pre-marking behavior such as
exploring, sniffing, turning into position, beginning to lift leg). Learn to
predict and pre-empt. Once you reach the area where it is permissible for your
dog to eliminate you can allow your dog to explore and sniff, and positively
reinforce marking behavior.
How do I reduce marking when my pet is "visiting"?
Dogs that mark when
visiting (e.g. the homes of friends or relatives, dog shows, veterinary
clinics, obedience classes, etc.) should be kept on leash, at least until they
are comfortable, settled and have had the opportunity for supervised
exploration of the new environment. Where practical, it might be advisable to
leave these dogs at home, rather than take them to places that have odors that
are just waiting to be anointed with a urine mark. If you do take your dog
along, make sure to keep your dog occupied with a task that is unlikely to lead
to urine marking.
"... visiting gives the dog something
constructive and acceptable to do."
Having your dog sit by
your side, stay on a down command, play with a toy, or get affection and social
contact from you or the people you are visiting gives the dog something
constructive and acceptable to do. If your dog begins to get excited, anxious
or begins to wander away to sniff and explore, it may be a prelude to marking
and should be prevented or pre-empted with a leash (or leash and head
How do I control urine marking in my home?
If your dog marks in
your home, you will need to determine the cause of the marking to determine if
it is a temporary or isolated event (such as the visit of another dog or
bringing a new item into the home), or whether there might be underlying
anxiety. If there is an underlying anxiety, you will need to find and resolve
the cause. When bringing new upright objects (plants) or furniture into the
home or when moving into a new home, supervise your dog, on leash if necessary,
as it explores the new objects or new home. As the dog gets accustomed to the
new surroundings, you can begin to allow it some freedom. A DAPTM diffuser may also be
Treatment for specific
anxieties will vary with the cause. Insure that all training is reward based
and that your dog has a regular and stimulating routine of exercise and play
(see our handout on 'Training Dogs – Enrichment, Predictability and
Scheduling'). At times when you
are not playing, training, exercising or supervising, your dog should learn to
settle down (preferably in its bed or confinement area) either to take a nap or
play with its own toys (see handout on 'Training Dogs - Settle
and Relaxation Training'). If the problem is
related to fear or anxiety toward another dog in the home, then separation,
gradual supervised reintroduction and a program of desensitization and
counterconditioning may need to be implemented. If the pet is marking due to
anxiety about noises or being separated from the owner then these problems will
need to be addressed (see our handouts on 'Fears and Phobias in
Dogs – Inanimate Noises and Places' and 'Separation Anxiety in Dogs').
When you are available
to supervise, you should be playing, training or exercising your dog, or
insuring that it is sufficiently occupied and relaxed that there is no attempt
or desire to mark (for more information see our handout on 'Training Dogs –
Enrichment, Predictability and Scheduling'). Should your pet begin to wander away or head toward objects
that have been previously marked, you can prevent problems by interrupting your
dog with a verbal command or leash, and giving him an activity to keep him
occupied. By keeping a leash (with or without a head halter) on your dog (as
discussed above) you will be able to prevent your dog from wandering off and
marking and can inhibit your dog should pre-marking signs begin. When you
cannot supervise, confine your dog to an area where marking is unlikely to occur
(his bedroom, eating room or crate) or place him in an area such as an outdoor
run where marking would be acceptable. If you know the specific stimuli for
marking then you might be able to keep your dog away from the windows, doors,
plants or furniture where he might mark by confinement or by using booby traps
in the area. Booby traps can also be used to prevent access to specific areas.
If there is urine residue from other dogs on your property, use an odor
neutralizer to remove the smell. When taking your dog outdoors, you should give
rewards to reinforce marking at sites where marking is permitted, and you
should not permit marking anywhere else.
Would drugs be helpful?
Some cases of marking
may be decreased if the pet's level of anxiety or arousal can be reduced. In
these cases anti-anxiety drugs, pheromones and natural products that reduce
anxiety might be useful, but are unlikely to stop marking behavior on their
information sheet is based on material written by: Debra Horwitz, DVM,
Diplomate ACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, Diplomate ACVB