So why do dogs mark territory with pee?
When someone says urine marking in dogs, the first thing that comes to mind is an intact male dog marking every fire hydrant and traffic sign along his walk. However, urine marking as a behavior is not exclusive to intact males.
Urine marking is a natural way of communication between dogs. However, when exhibited frequently and in inappropriate places (like inside the house), urine marking is considered a behavioral issue.
4 Reasons For Dogs Marking Territory With Pee
Before reviewing the most common reasons for urine marking, we should note that sometimes dogs may exhibit this behavior due to health issues.
Therefore, before pointing the finger at your dog and blaming him for his actions, make sure there is no underlying health problem.
With that being said, these are the most common reasons for urine marking in dogs.
Sharing messages about reproductive availability is the most common cause for urine marking in dogs. In fact, urine marking is primarily an issue among unneutered males and unsprayed females.
Generally, males mark all the time as they are always available for mating, while females sync their marking behavior with their estrous cycle.
Intact male dogs are likely to urine mark upon encountering a female. For some dogs, the presence of a female is not necessary.
For example, if your dog is not getting along with a neighbor dog, he may insist on peeing in front of the other dog’s house during your walks. This is also a form of social stimulation, but in this case, it stems from rivalry.
Changes in the Environment
Your dog likes being in charge, and if a new dog is introduced into the household, the resident is likely to cover the newcomer’s pee by peeing over his pee. This is part of the dog’s territorial instincts.
Similarly, if you start walking your dog in a new place, it may feel tempted to mark specific points in an attempt to claim territory as his own.
A Matter of Anxiety
Anxious dogs are prone to urine marking. In such cases, the marking is not a mean of communication, but a coping mechanism. Many situations can trigger anxiety in dogs, including:
- Furniture rearrangement
- Loud conflicts between household members
- New household members (a human baby or another pet)
- Unusual noises (thunderstorms, fireworks, traffic)
- Changes in the dog’s routine and schedule
Dogs More Likely to Urine Mark
In general, urine marking is associated with intact male dogs. However, considering that urine marking is a communication means in dogs, it is not unusual for females and neutered males to engage in severe urine marking.
For example, females tend to urine mark when in heat – they want to leave a message they are receptive and willing to mate.
On the other hand, even neutered males can urine mark if they did not associate this behavior with hormones.
For example, if the reason the dog urine marked before neutering was anxiety or simply communicating with other dogs, the behavior will not be affected by the neutering procedure.
How to Decrease Urine Marking in Dogs
More often than not, eliminating or at least decreasing the urine marking behavior in dogs requires a multi-modal approach.
The simplest and easiest solution for sexually intact dogs prone to urine marking is neutering. Neutering eliminates the hormonal influence of the behavior. After the procedure, it is advisable to practice reinforced urine marking, but in acceptable locations.
We should note that after neutering, the male hormones remain in the body for a few months. Until they are fully eliminated, it is unreasonable to expect changes in your dog’s urine marking tendencies.
Neutering, as noted, is an efficient solution. A study showed that neutering alone decreases the urine marking frequency in over 80 percent of cases and eliminates it in around 40 percent.
Sadly, although efficient, neutering is not an option for breeding and show dogs.
Punishing and scolding your dog for his urine marking is irrational. Punishment is often counter-effective as it creates more anxiety, and anxiety can be the root of the marking behavior in some dogs.
Instead of punishing, you should practice positive reinforcement. Namely, if you see your dog raising his leg, give him another command as a distraction or simply call his name and start interacting.
If you are walking outside and come near a pole or a frequently marked place, increase your pace and not give your dog enough time to pee. Once you passed the critical marking point, reward your dog with a treat you brought from home.
Scent elimination is critical if your dog tends to urine mark inside the house. In such cases, you need to mask the scent in the marking points by cleaning them with a dog-friendly bacterial or enzymatic cleaner.
Simply camouflaging the scent is rarely enough. You need to eliminate the scent completely.
Additionally, dogs are unwilling to pee where they eat. Therefore, once the scent is eliminated, you can place your dog’s food bowl at the spot he used to urine mark.
Confinement and Supervision
While teaching your dog, not to urine mark around the house, you need to either confine him to a crate or a small house area using baby gates or similar devices. Alternatively, if not a fan of confinement, you need to keep him under close supervision.
Lately, the so-called “umbilical cord” technique is quite popular among dog parents. Namely, you need to leash your dog to yourself and basically go everywhere together.
It is vital to identify your dog’s anxiety trigger and try to eliminate them. If that is not possible, you can at least minimize your dog’s exposure to them or practice desensitization.
For example, if your dog finds it stressful to have guests over, make sure he stays in another room while dealing with the guests.
Alternatively, you can keep your dog in the same room as the guest but focus on him – give treats, praises, or even have some of the guests pet him and play with him. That way, your dog will associate the guests with a positive experience.
If the trigger is not manageable, for example, fireworks or traffic noise, ask your vet about using a diffuser with dog-appeasing pheromones.
Behavior modification is always the treatment of choice when dealing with exaggerated urine marking behavior in dogs. However, until the effects of the behavior modification kick in, talk to your vet in terms of using medication.
If your dog’s urine marking behavior is triggered by anxiety, consider anti-anxiety medications.
On the other hand, if the behavior is hormonally-induced, and you are not ready for neutering, consult with your vet about chemical castration.
Chemical castration is a temporary solution achieved with oral or injectable medications. Its effects are reversible but can solve the problem while working on behavior modification. Plus, it will be like giving the permanent surgical castration a test drive and see what to expect.