Urine Marking in Dogs
A dog urinating on objects, usually vertical, is a normal, instinctive social behaviour. Dogs mark their territory by urinating on certain objects within their territory. The dog returns to these spots on occasion to renew this olfactory mark. Usually the amount of urine produced is a smaller amount than when the dog relieves himself. Marking often occurs in areas where other dogs have urine marked or left their odour. Although more commonly seen in intact males, neutered males and females also mark.
What is inappropriate marking? Inappropriate marking is when an otherwise healthy, housetrained dog marks objects in an area that is not acceptable to the owner, such as inside a home.
Why is my dog inappropriately marking?
Causes of inappropriate urine marking can be hormonal or social. Social factors include situations that cause anxiety or territorial stimuli, such as other animals entering their “territory,” or the introduction of something new, such as grocery bags, people, or furniture. Dogs with other anxieties, such as generalised anxiety, separation anxiety or noise phobia, can also mark.
What can I do to prevent inappropriate marking?
• If your dog is intact, neuter your dog. One study found that 40% of male dogs castrated
for marking drastically decreased their marking, regardless of age of castration.
• Neuter all animals in household. Hormonal changes in other animals, like female dogs in
heat, may trigger marking.
• It is important to rule out underlying medical problems that may cause inappropriate
urine marking. The stress of medical problems can be a contributing factor to marking.
• Clean up residual odours of the urine with enzymatic cleaners.
• Block or eliminate provoking stimuli, such as cover windows where your dog can see
other dogs walking by, block access to room where dog may hear other dogs walking by.
• Have a conversation with your behaviour consultant or therapist about separation
anxiety or other anxieties to determine if this is the cause of inappropriate urine marking.
Treat these underlying causes.
• Do not place new objects on floor until your dog has gotten used to having them in the
• During training, when your dog cannot be supervised, he should be confined to a smaller
area so that he does not practice inappropriate urine marking when the owner is not
home. He may subsequently learn that it is only safe to mark when the owner is away.
• Establish conspicuous objects outside the house where marking is acceptable, and
reward for acceptable marking.
• Change the emotional state of your dog around target areas to pleasurable areas of play
• In dogs with extreme anxiety, anti-anxiety medications may be beneficial. These are
available on prescription only from your veterinarian.
Things not to do!
• When you witness your dog marking, do not yell at him or use other types of
punishment, or this may lead to your dog marking when you are not present, or sneaking
off to mark as he has learnt it is not safe to mark in your presence. Do not punish your
dog after the fact by rubbing their nose in it, etc as your dog will not associate it with the
marking that happened awhile ago and it could negatively affect your dogs trust in you
and the relationship and bond you are developing with your dog.
Though your dog may drive you crazy marking around the house, it is not a hopeless situation!
There are many steps you can take to eliminate or minimize the behaviour, beginning with neutering. Start by analysing why your dog is marking to determine if there is an underlying problem. Animals also depend on their owners to teach them appropriate behaviours, so you must be consistent with your rules. By starting with a few of these simple changes, you may be able to change your dog’s inappropriate marking habit. If you should need further assistance be sure to contact your veterinarian, who may send you to a board certified veterinary behaviourist, or an accredited/certified animal behaviour consultant or therapist.
Hand-out created as part of a class exercise by veterinary students:
Omar Cabrera, Sara Leisgang, and Jennine Ochoa
Clinical Animal Behavior Service