Is your dog urinating on your furniture or walls? He’s not “badly house-trained”, he’s urine marking. Here’s why he does it and what you can do about it.
Marking their environment with urine is instinctive and normal behaviour for dogs. Most frequently found in male dogs (and especially unneutered ones), it is also occasionally seen in females. Generally marking vertical surfaces, dogs may use just a few drops of urine to do it – they can easily relieve themselves outside and then come in and ‘get on with their marking’. In other words, this is not so much a house-training issue but a territorial one.
Why Dogs Urine Mark
Dogs that mark their territory are not trying to tell their owners that they are in charge. They also never do it to be spiteful or because they are ‘angry’. Marking furniture and walls is simply their way of saying “Hey, I was here”. More a sign of anxiety than a sign of dominance, marking may be triggered, for instance, by another pet joining the family; another animal (a neighbour’s cat or a fox, for example) straying into your garden, or anything new – like a new boyfriend or baby, a new item of furniture or a visitor’s bag. Even another animal’s smell on your shoes or trousers could be enough to provoke marking.
Marking may also be triggered by medical problems, so if your dog suddenly starts doing this without apparent reason, it is important to take him to the vets to first rule out medical causes. Problems to look for include infections (especially of the urinary tract), prostate enlargement, mental confusion, incontinence or mobility problems (this is especially likely if this behaviour is new for a dog that is older). Other resident pets’ conditions (another dog suffering with a urinary infection or a female dog in heat, for instance) can also sometimes trigger marking.
Dealing with Marking Behaviour
Neutering or spaying your pet should reduce marking – it may even stop it altogether. Naturally, this should – if possible – be done well before marking has become a difficult to eliminate habit.
If, however, your pet has been marking with urine for some time, he or she may already have established a pattern. As this is now a learned behaviour, the problem cannot be solved through neutering or spaying alone. In this case, the following tips may help:
Your dog may be anxious – deal with his anxiety. If your pet is anxious because he/she is getting used to a ‘newcomer’ (maybe a guest, a baby or a new boy/girlfriend), give him lots of attention; get the newcomer feed him/her; give your pet treats and make sure the baby’s around when you’re playing with your dog.
Avoid conflict with new pets. Begin introducing your new pet to your dog on neutral territory, then let them meet outside your home and finally bring them into the new house together. Never get excited enough about a new pet to ‘forget’ and neglect existing ones. If a problem does develop between your pets, seek an experienced trainer or behaviourist’s help before matters escalate. Sometimes, the solution is as easy as feeding your pets separately (i.e. in separate rooms).
Clean urine marks as soon and as thoroughly as possible. Ideally, you should use a bacterial or enzymatic cleaner developed especially for use on pet urine, as this ensures the odour will not last. If used immediately, white vinegar can also eliminate odours. Either way, it is important to remove the odour thoroughly, because even if you cannot detect it, your dog can – and he will go back to the same spot to mark again.
Do not give your dog access to areas he has previously marked. If you can use a baby gate or close a door, do that to keep him away from such areas. If keeping him out of an area is impossible, feed him there, as this will make him less likely to mark that area again.
Keep your pet away from that new sofa until it has been around a while and do keep unfamiliar items in closets, shelves or cabinets – anywhere, as long as they are off the floor.
Watch for marking signs. Dogs usually follow a specific sequence before they lift their legs. Interrupt your dog’s sequence before he gets to lifting his leg (attaching your dog’s leash to your waist may make it easier to spot these signs). Take him outside, let him urinate and then reward him for doing it there.
When you cannot be with your dog to supervise him, keep him confined. Ideally, this should be in his crate, as he cannot mark there. If your dog is not yet used to a crate, gradually train him to it, feed him in it and let ‘random treats appear’ in it. If, however, your dog is used to a crate and hates it, try confining him in a small room (a room he has not yet marked in!) instead.
If, after all this, your dog’s marking behaviour fails to change, it may become necessary to discuss a short anti-anxiety medication course with your vet. This may relieve his anxiety sufficiently to allow these other methods to work more effectively.
Last, but by no means least, here is what you should never do after your dog has marked something with urine: Never punish your dog by yelling at him and/or rubbing his nose in the places he has marked after the fact!
The problem is, he won’t know for sure why you are punishing him. Are you punishing him because he had a pee? Because he had a pee by your bed? Because he had a pee where you could see him?
Dogs don’t associate punishment with anything they did even as little as a minute ago. Your dog has been busy doing other things for the last sixty seconds and he won’t, cannot be sure what exactly it is he did wrong.
Making him confused and possibly even fearful, punishing your dog for marking could at best make him more likely to start “sneaking off”. At worst, it could make him afraid to pee when you are around – even when out walking.
You should try to consider marking as your dog’s way to communicate his feelings to you:
“What is that smelly, screaming thing (baby) and for how long is it likely to be here?”
“Why do you allow that other dog/cat to bully me?”
“Is that a fox or a giant squirrel – and what is it doing in MY garden?”
“Now that your new girlfriend has moved in, you don’t give me any attention, our routine has changed, AND her handbag smells funny!”
“Where HAVE you been? I can smell dozens of other dogs on your shoes!”