Stop Dog Marking Behaviors
Dogs urine mark for a variety of reasons, namely to protect their territory, attract mates or because they are fearful and anxious. It’s not done out of anger, jealousy, spite and so forth. Nor is it inappropriate urination due to poor house training. Rather, marking is simply an instinctual dog behavior that generally starts when the dog reaches sexual maturity. Stopping it can be very difficult, however, because it’s so instinctual. Still, there are ways to reduce or completely eliminate it — through putting preventative measures in place, reducing your dog's anxiety and investigating other potential causes for the marking.
Leading the Pack to Control Marking
- Understand your dog’s territorial nature. Dogs are naturally territorial, and their first priorities are to establish and protect the pack, its belongings and its territory. They do this largely through instinctual marking. Within a dog’s territory exist locations that he most particularly wants to protect, such as favorite feeding sites and dens.
When a dog becomes a pet, he must find a compromise between his instinctual drive to rule his territory and the reality that this territory is not in the wild but instead in a home. Thus a pet dog’s territory includes your home, yard, parks and other locations he goes to regularly, the route of his normal walk, etc.
- It is very common for a dog to “re-mark” or “overmark” a site already marked by another dog in order to claim a territory as his own.
- Being territorial in your home and marking signals either a) the dog believes the things or places he marks “belong” to him and/or b) he thinks that item or space is under siege or in threat, generally from either a human or another pet.
- Marking also serves as an effective means for a dog to stake his claim and protect his territory without having to challenge each dog that sniffs about and goes into it.
- And dogs mark in new environments to make them smell like home and to cover unfamiliar odors with theirs.
- Anticipate and stop marking before it happens by intervening when you see your dog lifting his leg to urinate, particularly on vertical surfaces, new objects and around doors and windows. Female dogs will even do a handstand to raise their hind legs when marking.
- Know the other roles of marking. Marking is also used to support the instinctual pack hierarchy and to let other dogs know when they’re ready to mate. A dog pack communicates amongst itself and with other packs in large part through their sense of smell. They’re able to learn the sex, identity and reproductive status of other dogs by sniffing the pheromones in their urine marking. In the home, dogs also stake claims on objects (particularly new objects) and spaces by marking. Additionally, they will mark when they feel anxiety about, for instance, having a new baby or pet in the home or when there are conflicts between animals.
- Male dogs are more likely to mark than females, and intact males mark 50-60% more than neutered males.
- Females also mark, though less than males, and typically when they’re in heat. Nonetheless, spayed females also mark sometimes.
- Energetic or more dominant dogs tend to mark a lot because if in a pack, they’d pose the biggest threat to an interloper. Less confident dogs also mark a good deal, especially intimate objects, due to anxiety.
- Experts generally agree that the best way to stop marking is to have your dog spayed or neutered. For maximum effectiveness, it must be done before your dog has reached maturity, or by about 6 months of age.
- When active markers aren’t neutered until they are mature, behavior modification is generally required.
- Become the pack leader. Outside of spaying and neutering, this is the most important thing you can do to get your dog to stop marking. Dogs are not willfully disobedient. Once an area is marked, they are drawn back to the scent to mark again. Your role as the pet's leader is to teach them what is appropriate behavior and what isn't.
- You won’t punish your dog after he has marked something. A dog lives in the moment, so by the time you punish your dog for marking he thinks he’s being punished for whatever he’s doing at the moment of punishment.
- You will get to know members of his pack — as a friend, teacher and guardian — so you can identify and help fulfill each dog’s needs.
- You will be consistent, firm, calm and confident, which will help your dog to feel secure.
- You will cement your standing by attending to his need to work. Because dogs were bred to hunt and herd, give him a job to do, such as playing fetch or Frisbee, taking a walk, etc.
Ruling Out Other Reasons for Marking
- Find out if he has a health problem. Dogs will also mark when they have health problems, such as a bladder or urinary infection; in reaction to a medicine; due to incontinence and other medical issues. If your dog is urinating very quickly or more frequently than normal, take him to a vet.
- Address behavioral problems. Your dog might have a submissive or excitement problem, especially if he marks during play, physical contact, greetings or scolding and punishment. If this is the case, your dog will often cringe or cower, roll over on his stomach, duck his head, avert his eyes, or flatten his ears. Address a submissive or excitement issue by greeting your dog outside and then ignoring him until he is calm when you go inside. Then tell him to sit as you look to the side and squat down to greet him.
- Also, pet him only under the chin or chest, keep play low-key and use toys rather than bodily contact.
- Determine if he's not properly house trained. His marking could also be because he isn’t totally house trained. If so, feed him on a consistent schedule and remove food between meals. Take him outside to eliminate frequently and keep an eye on him at all times to prevent accidents inside. You can also install a doggy door or confine him to a small room or crate if you can’t watch him at all times. Make sure to take him to the same place outside to eliminate and reward him for eliminating outside.
- Clap loudly to startle but not scare him if you catch him in the act of marking inside.
- You can also train him to eliminate on paper or in a dog litter box if he has mobility problems.
- Consider if he has separation anxiety. He also may mark because he has separation anxiety, which is indicated when he seems nervous or upset right before you leave. To help him with this, use “counter conditioning,” in which you create a positive association with your leaving through giving him a puzzle toy or treat. It also involves shortening the time of separation for awhile before gradually increasing that time. Also teach him that when you pick up your keys, get your purse and briefcase or put on your coat (cues to him that you’re leaving), you aren’t always leaving..
- You can demonstrate this to him by a) doing these things (e.g., picking up your keys) and then not leaving, b) by engaging in out-of-sight but not out-of-the-house separation, such as making him stay while you go into a room and shut the door, and c) by staying calm when you’re leaving or arriving home.
- You can also desensitize his fear by having him experience low-intensity versions of being alone, such as taking him to work with you, having someone stay with him while you’re gone, putting him in a doggy daycare, and providing a lot of physical and mental stimulation through exercise, play, toys, etc., to decrease his stress.
- If these things aren’t working, he may need to take an anti-anxiety medication.
Taking Preventative Measures
- Use positive reinforcement. When you catch him in the act of marking, interrupt his marking, firmly say “No” or clap your hands, take him outside and reward him for eliminating outside. Catching him in the act and correcting his behavior can be extremely effective; however, there is a risk he will associate the punishment with you, and merely avoid toileting in that spot in your presence. Remember: Punishment won’t work because you won’t be able to punish him until the deed is done, and he will associate the punishment not with marking but with what he’s doing right then. Moreover, he isn’t doing it to be naughty or in retaliation.
- Reduce social triggers. Exciting social situations can trigger marking. Try to keep a male dog away from female dogs in heat or away from other male dogs if you notice this increases marking. Avoid over-stimulating social situations, such as visiting a friend’s home where other dogs have marked.
- Limit his access to things he often marks. Keep objects that frequently make him mark put up. These might be new purchases, a visitor’s belongings, or things of yours he has negative associations with. Also don’t let other dogs in your home or yard if they will mark it. This will cause yours to over mark.
- Restrict your dog’s access to doors and windows. A dog will often mark if he can see another dog outside. If you can't limit this access, try to keep other animals away from your house and yard. You could do this by installing fencing, asking your neighbor to keep his or her dog away if that is a problem, planting thorny or prickly plants along the perimeter of your yard, getting rid of your dog’s yard droppings, keeping food and water dishes inside or putting them up after outside use, removing standing water so other dogs won’t want to drink it, or spreading 1” chicken wire over newly seeded garden beds to discourage other dogs from digging.
- Use barriers to stop the marking. Dogs won’t mark in enclosed spaces, so crating while you’re away is an option. You can also put a crate or your dog’s bed over an area your dog frequently marks. He won’t mark what he sleeps on, and it can serve as a barrier for problem marking areas.
- Other barriers include putting his food and water bowls over problem spots. If that seems to work, feed him there for two weeks and then move the bowls to either another problem area or back to their normal spot.
- Place treats near predictable marking spots and objects. If your dog only marks certain objects like your shoes, which can bring in other dogs’ marking scents, or in certain locations, put treats around these objects and spaces. This can help your dog regard these items and places as sources of food rather than triggers for his marking.
- Make previously marked areas unpleasant or inaccessible. Try putting down double-sided tape, a vinyl carpet runner turned upside down to expose the rough side, or other humane “booby” traps to keep him away from those areas. You can also feed, give treats, and play with your dog in these areas so he forms a new association with them. In doing this, that area can become an unpleasant place for him to mark.
- Clean areas that your dog has marked. This is extremely important because dogs are attracted to spots they’ve already marked or that have been marked by a visiting dog. Masking the odor isn’t enough, however. You need to do your best to neutralize the odor. Soak the object (if possible) or spot with a pet urine enzymatic cleaner and let it dry. Don’t use a cleaner with ammonia because urine contains ammonia and will only attract your dog more to the object or space.
- Use fans or a blow dryer to speed up the drying, and don’t allow your dog access to the area as it dries.
- If you’re trying to clean wall-to-wall carpeting, you may need to pull up the carpet to clean or replace the padding underneath.
- Provide him with acceptable places to mark. If you cannot stop your dog from marking, train him to mark in certain areas or on specific objects, such as a certain tree or a fake fire hydrant. Take him to a place he normally marks or expose him to objects he normally marks. Then immediately take him to the new marking area. Wait until he marks the new area and reward him with praise or a treat.
- Don’t prevent your dog from marking while on walks. This will frustrate your dog and increase indoor marking.
Preventing Anxiety-Induced Marking
- Remember that anxiety is a major cause of marking. A variety of things can trigger enough anxiety to mark: new objects and people, new environments, separation from you or other members of the household, conflict with other pets, etc. What’s more is that marking caused by anxiety often results in the dog eliminating more urine than normal. It also causes them to mark more on non-vertical surfaces.
- Resolve conflicts with other family pets. If your dog and the other pet have been living together for quite some time and simply don’t get along, consult a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB), a Diplomate of the American College of Veterinary Behavior (Dip ACVB) or a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT) with experience in this area. You likely won’t be able to resolve their issues on your own.
- Introduce new pets to each other strategically. The addition of a new pet to the household can increase your dog’s marking. Thus, you want to introduce them in a controlled manner, and slowly. The way in which you introduce them depends upon the type of animal you’re adding to your pet family.
- If it’s a new dog, introduce them one at a time if you have multiple dogs and make this introduction in a neutral place that your resident dog doesn’t consider his territory. Talk to them in a happy and positive voice when they naturally sniff each other (don’t let them sniff each other too long in case they become aggressive). Then get their attention and give them a treat when they obey a command like sit or stay. Finally, take them for a walk together (continue praising and giving treats).
- If it’s a new cat, let them first meet in your home. Then separate the animals for a few days, allowing each his or her turn to roam freely and investigate the other’s scent. Next have them in the same room but keep your dog on a leash until they are both calm and/or ignoring each other. After about one month, and when you are sure they won’t hurt each other, allow them unsupervised time around each other.
- Introduce a new baby to the home. Your dog may consider a new baby an intruder just as he does a new pet. Choose a quiet room for the introduction and sit down with your baby in your arms. Have someone else leash your dog and take him into the room, talking to him in a calm and happy voice. If your dog’s boy language is relaxed, bring the dog to the baby and allow him to sniff your baby’s feet for a few seconds if he wants, speaking softly to your dog. Then praise your dog and command him to sit or lie down before rewarding him with a treat.
- Do this several times before having your helper distract your dog with a chew bone or a stuffed Kong toy (a rubber toy that you fill with food) and allow everyone to sit peacefully in the room together.
- Introduce your dog to new adults thoughtfully. Dogs can often perceive new roommates, house guests, and visitors as interlopers invading their territory. They also will tend to mark that person’s things. The best way for them to become friends is to have the new person feed, groom and play with your dog so they can bond. Both you, as Alpha, and the new person should use positive reinforcement, praising and giving treats to your dog when he is friendly.
- Keep the new person’s personal items up and out of the way so your dog can’t mark them.
- Try a synthetic hormone diffuser, collar or spray. A Dog Appeasement Pheromone (DAP) device emits synthetic “appeasing pheromones” to mimic the ones a lactating mother dog secretes. They are calming hormones that help the dog relax.
- A DAP diffuser should be used in a room that your dog uses or marks most. Simply plug it into an outlet; they work for about one month.
- DAP sprays should be sprayed 15 minutes prior to your dog entering the area. The effect usually lasts 1.5-2 hours.
- A DAP collar wraps around your dog’s neck and should be left in place until you change it one about one month. Cut off the extra collar material after you secure it.
- Give your dog an anti-anxiety medicine. This should be a last resort and can only be obtained through your vet. It should be used along with behavior training as it will not eradicate your dog’s anxiety. They also are generally only given in short courses.
- If you come home to find your dog has marked, just clean it up. Don’t take him to the spot or object and yell at him or rub his nose in it. He won’t associate that type of punishment with his marking. And it can make him more fearful and insecure.
- If you’ve tried everything you can to stop the marking, consult with an animal behaviorist. Look at this website to find one in your area: .
- Figuring out the reason for your dog’s marking will help a great deal in reducing to eliminating it. Take notes or create a chart that will help you track what was happening when the dog marked, how he behaved prior to the marking, where he’s marking in relationship to these issues, etc.
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