13 Tips to Reduce Dog Marking
There is no secret that dog marking is a never-ending circle of sniff, mark, sniff, mark. But when your dog is marking areas in the house or flower garden, you probably get as frustrated as every other dog owner trying to make it stop. Dog marking is a natural behavior ingrained in the canine pack mentality, but you can take steps to keep it from happening in the house or on your azaleas.
Any good dog trainer will tell you that positive reinforcement training combined with patience and consistency is the key to changing any dog's behavior. Even instinctual tendencies can be adjusted in dogs once they are taught what is expected of them and given new appropriate behaviors from their pet owners.
Why Dogs Mark: Normal Animal Behavior
Those in the canine family use urine (through marking) as a way to establish territorial control and leadership in the pack. The unique odor comprised of pheromones found in urine is like an aromatic doggy fingerprint discerned by smell. Pheromone scent is essentially how dogs identify each other. This explains why they greet each other with one dog’s nose between the hind legs of another dog; they are matching the urine marks found on light poles with the actual dog in front of them.
Marking with urine happens with both male and female dogs, though many dog owners seem to find that alpha male dogs tend to be the biggest culprits. The problem usually starts as puppies mature and begin to establish their place in the pack order. This is a progression that eventually leads to establishing mating orders where the most dominant animals have the pick of the pack to mate with.
Additionally, dog owners with more than one dog may find one is more prone to marking than the other dog due to an alpha dominant personality. Small dogs may be trying to establish leadership and security within the pack. Because it is a natural part of any dog’s behavior, marking can be difficult to control.
Consider these 13 tips to help control dog marking in the house or yard:
1. Behavioral Training to Stop Urine Marking
Behavioral training helps teach your dog where you can and can’t leave a mark. Keep in mind that you are not potty training when dealing with marking. Even potty-trained males and females mark because it is a means to communicate what belongs to them or that he or she is in charge. When training a dog to stop marking, create regular routines. Regular walks, feeding time, playtime, and marking time help establish order in your dog’s mind.
Become keenly aware of what your dog does at home to see if there are regular spots he wants to mark. When he marks a proper place, give him positive reinforcement (love, a treat, or toy) and redirect him when you see that he is about to mark something he shouldn’t. You may need to block or remove certain things your dog has access to where he is prone to mark until he learns what is appropriate.
2. Avoid Punishment
If you punish your dog when you catch him marking, you could be doing more harm than good. Your dog might start to hide his marking and you’ll be left guessing as to where he is doing it. Punishing him hours later does no good since your dog won’t know why he is being punished. This could lead to submissive urination issues because he is afraid of you.
Instead, be patient with your dog use positive reinforcement with proper marking spots outside. Even when outside, be specific of certain places that are acceptable to mark such as the fire hydrant even giving him a treat when he marks that instead of the neighbor’s roses.
3. Leash Your Dog Up and Walk Him
The canine natural instinct is to mark territory to let other dogs know who is the top dog, literally. This is why dogs love to mark vertical things like fire hydrants. The dog that marks the highest level is considered the alpha. Other dogs coming around will recognize the hierarchy based on smell. Leash training on walks helps your dog learn where it is acceptable to mark and helps to curb the problem.
Keeping a shorter leash helps to control your dog and prevents him from marking every few feet as you can gently guide him away and reward him for following your commands. Give your dog ample chances to mark the neighborhood by taking him on walks where he is allowed to mark and let other dogs in the neighborhood know who he is and where he belongs in the community pack.
4. Limit Home Access
If you are not home for an extended period of time, the best solution might be to crate your puppy or limit free access to the house. Use a baby gate or other barrier to keep him in the kitchen or one room. Dogs are less likely to mark small areas where they sleep. When you return, leash him up and walk him to let him relieve himself and mark the designated areas.
Just like potty training a puppy, limiting your dog’s access to the house reduces his desire to mark. A dog generally won’t go potty in his bed. The crate becomes akin to his bed when being trained.
5. Spaying Females and Neutering Males
Spaying and neutering dogs help reduce shelter overcrowding and animal euthanasia rates but will also help reduce urine-marking issues in many dogs. Approximately 50% to 60% of all dogs spayed and neutered stop marking after the procedure is completed. Part of the pack hierarchy is to get the top dogs to have the top mating picks. Neutered males and spayed females are no longer looking to mate.
Talk to your veterinarian about spaying and neutering your puppy or older dog. If you are unable to afford the procedure, there may be low-cost clinics that will do it for free or at a deep discount. Animal behaviorists agree that the benefits of spaying and neutering helps keep pets out of shelters because owners are less likely to get frustrated with a dog’s urine spots around the house.
6. Use a Belly Band
Some pet owners find that using a belly band helps reduce or eliminate marking especially resulting from frequent urination needs in a puppy or elder dog. Belly bands wrap around your dog’s stomach region with an absorbent maxi pad positioned to catch any urine. Not only does the pad collect urine happening from multiple issues (submissive urination, separation anxiety, excitement urination) it will collect any attempt your dog makes to mark. It is designed to keep home areas clean and is a great housebreaking tool.
By eliminating any areas from being urinated on, your dog’s odor is not left behind. This reduces his urge to go back to the area to mark it. Remember that marking is a behavioral habit, meaning dogs will return to marked areas to re-mark consistently. Belly bands reduce marking because there are fewer spots for your dog to get drawn back to based on his scent. Even if he does try to mark something, the urine is collected in the maxi pad positioned in the belly band preventing the mark.
7. Using Enzymatic Cleaners for Urine
Cleaning up after your dog when he has urinated is an important step to prevent future marking. However, just cleaning up after your dog might not be enough because his scent might remain. While humans might not smell anything and think that everything is clean, your dog (and visiting dogs) will still return to the same spots to urinate or mark.
Use an enzymatic cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle to not just disinfect an area where your dog urinates, but to break down the urine’s odor and eliminate it. Remember that masking a scent does no good. Your dog doesn’t smell a pizza; he smells the 20 ingredients used in making the pizza. Putting a deodorizer over his mark will only draw him back to the spot to make his scent stronger over it. Enzymatic cleaners remove the odor.
8. Address Separation Anxiety
If you have a dog that experiences extreme separation anxiety, he may not be marking at first. He could be so upset when separated from you that he is unable to hold his bladder while you are away. On the flip side, he can become overly excited when you return and dribble down his leg. This could later lead to marking because your dog will still catch his scent in the areas where he had an accident.
Work with dogs that are experiencing separation anxiety through positive reinforcement training that starts with short time periods away from the house and slowly increase the time as your dog develops confidence that he can be alone. Make sure you are calm and the reunion is uneventful when you walk in the door to prevent getting him overly excited.
Be sure to clean up all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner to eliminate his odor and prevent marking habits from developing. Training dog owners to be consistent goes a long way to having well-trained dogs.
9. Keep Other Animals Out of Yard
Your dog may be marking various areas of the yard that you don’t want him to because he smells other animals. If dogs or coyotes have access to your yard, your dog is trying to set his perimeter to establish his territory. Other animal scents such as raccoons might prompt dog marking as well.
Look out for what animals may be frequenting your yard and then set deterrents to keep them out. Keep in mind that while you want to deter other animals, poisons can harm animals, your dogs, and the environment. Talk to an animal behaviorist or even an exterminator to appropriately resolve problems such as deer or rodents respectively. Reducing the urine smell of other animals can reduce your dog marking occurrences.
10. Neutral Territory Doggie Playdates
Socialization is great for dogs in so many ways. It provides mental stimulation, reduces separation anxiety, and builds confidence for dogs. However, if you have a doggie playdate at your home, a new dog will want to explore and potentially mark this new territory. Your dog may later start marking over his buddy’s odor.
Instead, have dogs meet on neutral ground like a park or beach. This way both dogs are not on their own turf trying to maintain their territory while another dog is trying to expand his. Meet and greets on neutral territory don’t just help reduce dog marking but will also reduce incidents of dog fights and aggression.
11. Calling in the Dog Trainer for Assistance
A professional dog trainer can assist with behavioral training to reduce dog marking. If you find that you aren’t making any progress with supervision and your own training regimen, a professional coming in to review what you are doing helps. A dog trainer will review the problem, your dog’s personality, what you are doing, and make any corrections to the training plan. While dog marking might not be completely eliminated in every dog, most pet owners see the frequency greatly reduced with the development of the right habits.
12. Go to The Vet: Urinary Tract Infection
Some dogs aren’t marking but instead may have a urinary tract infection or other medical condition leading to bladder and urination issues. While a urinary tract infection is easy to treat with a round of antibiotics, you need to address the issue sooner than later to prevent marking from happening later. Your dog may have an accident while sick and later catch his scent and start marking long after he is back to his healthy self.
Your veterinarian will determine if a urinary tract infection is the culprit and prescribe the right medication. He will also rule out all other potential medical issues that could lead to a weakened bladder such as Cushing’s Disease that may lead to incontinence in older dogs. Work with your veterinarian to develop the right course of action if your dog has a medical condition leading to unwanted urination accidents.
13. Patience! Patience! Patience!
Because marking is a natural canine instinct, it is normal and natural for any dog to start the bad habit. No dog owner is exempt from working with their dog on housebreaking that includes potential marking. It’s important to be prepared not only with the training tools that can curb marking but to have the right products to eliminate the odor from your home.
When in doubt, contact your veterinarian to rule out medical issues and call a professional dog trainer to help develop a custom training program that works for both the dog owner and dog. Avoid all negative punishment so your dog doesn’t feel that he needs to hide it from you. With patience, every dog owner can find success with eliminating unwanted marking in the home and areas of the yard.
Kimberlee Leonard is a certified pet first aid and CPR instructor. Her company, Safer Family Pets helps families prepared for worst-case scenarios including evacuations during natural disasters. She enjoys time with her beagle mix, Arky who enjoys “sit-walks” where he sits more than walks, enjoying the fresh mountain air.