How to Stop a Dog from Marking
When figuring out how to stop a dog from marking, it’s important that you first learn why dogs mark their territory.
Imagine this: you’re at home, and Mr. Barkley, your golden retriever, is in his usual spot on his bed. After a while, you decide to take him for a walk; after all, you don’t want him to turn into a chubby puppy! As you’re walking, you notice your neighbor, Linda, is gardening in her front yard.
You greet her as you’re passing and she looks up – only it’s at the worst possible moment. Her eyes widen in horror. Just as she was looking up, guess what happened? Mr. Barkley lifted his leg and just marked her mailbox and freshly-pruned rose bushes!
Does This Look Familiar?
I get a lot of questions about dog potty training and quite a few come from the owners of intact, older male dogs, thinking that this is a potty training issue. But. urine marking is not a “potty training” problem!
A dog that cocks his leg on the furniture is much different than a dog that squats and pees in a puddle on the floor. Often, one of my first questions as a trainer is: was the urine on a vertical or horizontal structure? Marking often occurs on furniture, doorways, clothing and anything else that might be new or that your dog deems is his.
Dogs Marking Inside
If marking their territory indoors is new behavior for your dog, then it is likely that something has changed in their environment.
The introduction of a new pet into the house can cause a dog to behave territorially, especially if one or both are not spayed/neutered. This new pet’s presence causes a shift in the social dynamic of the household that your current dog may feel needs addressing.
Similarly, the regular presence of a new person can cause a dog to mark their territory. One example of this is when a pet owner’s new partner becomes a regular fixture in the household. Your dog urinating in the house when they are there does not mean that they do not like them, but that they feel threatened or they feel the need to show the new person that they are in his territory. They are attempting to show that they are the alpha over that territory. It belongs to them.
You could try combating this by asking the new person to bring treats with them and to make sure that they have positive social interactions with the dog.
Additionally, the arrival of a new baby can have the same effect. Your dog urinating on a diaper bag is not a sign of their disapproval of the baby, so much as a reaction to new smells and noises and the potential lack of attention they are now receiving.
Essentially, any person or animal who regularly brings new smells into the home and disturbs the social hierarchy could cause your dog to mark their territory.
WHY Do Dogs Urine Mark?
Dogs are territorial animals.
That is a fact, and when they want to say “this is my spot,” they tell other people and animals by marking it using an assortment of ways.
One of the most common examples is when your dog barks to warn potential interlopers that they are about to trespass on his grounds. Some dogs will take this territory marking to the next level by urinating (or defecating, which is uncommon) in a certain spot.
Dogs use urine marking to show their dominance and to mark what they think belongs to them.
For dogs, urine is not gross or undesirable, in fact it is interesting and exciting and a way of signing their name to something. It is also a way to sense what other dogs have been in the neighborhood and a way to show confidence and to advertise mating availability!
Common Causes of Urine Marking:
Exciting social situations can trigger urine marking. Some male dogs only urine mark when in the presence of female dogs (especially if they’re in heat), and some urine mark only when interacting with other male dogs. Some dogs only urine mark when visiting homes where other dogs have urine marked before. Other dogs only urine mark when they become highly aroused and overstimulated in social situations. These dogs often mark nearby objects, people or other dogs.
Some dogs urine mark when they experience anxiety. Anxious dogs might deposit greater amounts of urine than dogs marking for other reasons. They might also urine mark on spots that aren’t vertical surfaces. A number of events can cause anxiety and trigger urine marking, including the presence of new objects, furniture or luggage in a dog’s environment, the departure of a resident from a dog’s home, a new person moving into the home, and conflict between a dog and people or other animals in the home.
Something New in the Environment
Some dogs urine mark when they encounter nonresident dogs in their environments or smell urine left in their environments by other dogs. A dog’s environment may encompass his home, his yard, the route he usually takes when on walks, friends’ homes he regularly visits, and parks or other locations he frequents.
Your Dog is in Heat
Dogs who are reproductively intact (non spayed females and non neutered males) are more likely to urine mark than spayed or neutered dogs. In unspayed females, urine marking usually happens more frequently just before and while they’re in heat.
An insecure dog may begin marking. Dogs that enter a new home, have the addition of a baby or another pet may also feel the need to mark.
This is an instinct in the beginning when the behavior starts, that can become a conditioned behavior. It is important to stop this behavior early before it becomes a habit or a conditioned behavior. So below I’ll give you some ideas on how to stop a male dog from marking everything he thinks belongs to him.
What Does Urine Marking Do?
In most cases, dogs mark their territory with a small amount of urine. They tend to lift their back leg and urinate on an object or area, thus claiming it as their own. This is called urine-marking.
Regardless, how does peeing somewhere get the message across that this is their territory?
Actually, a dog’s urine contains heaps upon heaps of information within its scent about that specific dog, something that is lost on us humans. Simply through the scent of the urine, another dog can know the sex, maturity and social status of the one who left the scent. You could say that urine acts like a canine business card.
Females in heat are prone to urinating in a similar way, but here the hormones and pheromones in their urine signal interested males from afar.
A dominant, alpha dog will be more inclined to mark their territory in a greater number of places, leaving a figurative – and sometimes literal – scent trail of destruction in his wake, while a more submissive one may lift their leg in only two or three places while they’re out. However, just because there is less marking doesn’t mean that there’s no problem.
It should be noted that not all male dogs will cock their leg when marking their territory, although this is the most common way. Additionally, despite common misconceptions, some females raise their leg to mark their territory too.
Also, in some extreme cases, dogs may even release large amounts of urine or even defecate to show something or somewhere is theirs.
Do All Male Dogs Mark?
Not all dogs mark, however spaying and neutering at an early age is best!
Most dogs that do mark begin marking when they reach sexual maturity (depending on the size of your dog) between 6 months to a year old.
Small breeds tend to mark more than larger breeds and intact males tend to mark more than neutered males or females. Although many intact females may begin marking prior to going into heat to let the other dogs in the neighborhood know she is available.
What to Do When Your Dog Starts Marking:
Keep it from happening!
Most dogs that are spayed or neutered will not begin marking (and yes females can mark too, although it is rarer than when the males do it.)
Testosterone definitely plays a key role in urine marking, so neutering at ANY age can help even if the behavior has been conditioned.
Prevention is a much better cure than dealing with a behavior problem!
I recommend spaying and neutering at about 16 weeks old or when your vet has finished up your puppy’s shots.
Unneutered dogs are more likely to mark their territory by spraying urine all throughout your house or other people’s belongings. Your dog might be less likely to mount other dogs, people and inanimate objects after he’s neutered. An additional benefit is that aggression problems may be avoided or mitigated if you neuter your dog early in life.
Neutering is a great option in general, however, if you’re planning on breeding your dog, then neutering is likely not a realistic possibility.
Supervise As Much As You Can!
You must catch your dog IN THE ACT of marking to let him know that what he is doing is wrong! Again, this is instinctual for him to mark what he considers “his things”. So you must be able to catch him and tell him NO.
Keep him on a leash or a tie down with you for many days. If you cannot watch him, keep him in his crate. Treat him like an 8 week old puppy and keep him confined to small spaces that you are in, until you are certain he is not going to mark.
Do not tell your dog that he’s bad long after the fact. If you come home and find a puddle of urine from several hours before, then proceed to start disciplining your dog, your dog will be confused and hurt. It doesn’t understand that it’s in trouble for something that happened hours ago. It only knows that it’s in trouble now.
Negative reinforcement, in general, is less effective than positive reinforcement, but negative reinforcement long after the incident does nothing but hurt and confuse your pet, thus perpetuating more bad behavior.
Supervising is a great option, because then your dog will know what’s wrong when it does something wrong. It allows you to effectively prevent and change your dog’s behavior.
Learn to Control the Behavior
I don’t mind my dog lifting his leg in HIS yard when he is NOT on leash. But, I do NOT allow him to lift his leg on everything while we walk or run.
He must squat to pee to relieve his bladder while he is on a leash or only lift his leg when I tell him it is okay to do so.
I don’t want him to get used to lifting his leg and marking everything all of the time. Walks and runs are my time and I won’t be pulled to every tree so that he can sniff and pee!
Clean Up When Your Dog Marks
Clean up the urine spots well with a urine enzyme cleaner. If he can still smell the urine, he is more likely to re-mark the area again and again.
If there is ONE favorite spot, I recommend feeding him in that spot. Dogs will not usually urinate where they eat, so moving his food bowl for a week or two might be effective. However, if you are not careful about supervising him he will just begin marking somewhere else!
Belly Bands Can Sometimes Work To Stop Your Dog From Marking
Belly bands which is like a male dog’s diaper can also be effective.
I am more of a believer in training and supervision than I am in belly bands that can easily be taken off or chewed through; but, some people swear by them.
Dogs don’t want to pee on themselves so one leg lifting in a belly band can be just enough to curb the behavior of even a chronic leg lifter.
Solutions For Marking Both Indoors and Outdoors
If your dog marks in your home, then your first order of business will be determining the cause of the marking.
Ponder and investigate whether it is a temporary or isolated event, or whether there might be underlying anxiety. If there is an underlying anxiety – such as separation anxiety when you’re not at home – then 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 a 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.
Not all specific anxieties will receive the same treatment.
Separation anxiety is very different from social anxiety. Treatments vary, depending upon the cause of the anxiety. Ensure that all training is reward based and that your dog has a regular and stimulating routine of exercise and play. At times when you are not playing, training, exercising, or supervising, your dog should learn to settle down either to take a nap or play with its own toys.
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.
Supervision – Both Indoors and Outside
When you are available to supervise, you should be playing, training or exercising your dog, or ensuring that it is sufficiently occupied and relaxed that there is no attempt or desire to mark. Should your pet start 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 on your dog, 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 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.
As was stated earlier, when it comes to marking outdoors, or even inside, the best way to stop your dog’s marking behavior is to prevent it from happening in the first place. Do not let your dog stop and mark the landscape while you are going for walks. Control the behavior. Supervise.
This is instinctual and can be difficult to curb, but if you put in the effort you will be able to stop a male dog from marking!
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.