It’s true that canines communicate very differently from humans, and marking–intentional urination–may be the most blatant example. Though it looks (and smells) identical, marking is not at all the same thing as elimination. If your dog has an accident indoors because he simply can’t hold it or because he’s still working on housetraining, he’s communicating nothing more than that he needs to relieve himself. Marking, on the other hand, can mean anything from, “Hey, you’re standing on my property” to “My rank is higher than your rank” to “Wanna mate?”
Most often, marking is an instinctual behavior. (It’s more common to males than females, and almost always involves urination; dogs rarely mark with feces.) Your dog uses this tactic to say, “This is my turf.” The trigger can be anything from the arrival of a baby to the acquisition of a new vacuum cleaner. Sometimes, simply noticing a squirrel zip through the backyard is enough to prompt marking behavior. While excitement or fear can also stimulate your dog to deliberately urinate, the most common explanation is that he’s just identifying his territory.
How to treat the problem
- Spay or neuter your dog, preferably before he reaches sexual maturity (in some breeds, that’s as early as six months). This reduces his compulsion to mark and can prevent the habit from forming in the first place.
- Establish yourself as a strong, benevolent leader so that your dog knows to look to you for guidance. You can reinforce your benevolent leadership status by asking your dog to earn every privilege or treat. For example, before you toss him that tennis ball or feed him his dinner, ask him for a specific behavior (such as “sit“).
- Because marking often occurs as a response to a perceived threat, ensure that your dog is comfortable in his own home. If you’re bringing a new person–or animal–into the household, make certain that all those initial interactions are positive. Introduce another pet gradually and provide plenty of treats when the new baby’s around.
- If there’s a particular area where your dog is given to marking, change his association with that spot by playing his favorite game with him there or “hiding” treats in and around the area.
- Don’t let him roam freely inside the house. Put him in his crate or another small, safe space when you aren’t able to monitor him.
- If you catch him in the act of marking, immediately interrupt him and lead him outside. Don’t scold him; this will make the problem worse.
Excited or submissive urination
- If you suspect your pup is urinating simply because he’s excited to see you at the end of each day, keep greetings and reunions low-key. (Ask visitors–or anyone who triggers an excited response in your dog–to do the same.) This behavior is common in puppies, and they usually outgrow it as they develop better bladder control.
- Submissive urination is your dog’s way of letting the other guy know he’s not a threat. Help build your dog’s confidence through training and praise.
- Avoid sending any message that the pup could perceive as intimidating (for example, direct eye contact or a pat on the head).
How to prevent the problem
All of these techniques will help prevent marking behavior as well as treat it. Start when your dog is a puppy: spay or neuter him as early as possible. Make sure that he’s completely housetrained and knows where it is–and isn’t–appropriate to urinate. Pair the arrival of unfamiliar people, animals, and objects with treats and praise to create positive associations with new things.
Bottom line: Marking is instinctual in canines and is primarily used to communicate ownership or assertiveness. The best way to curb the behavior is to ensure that your dog is properly housetrained and feels safe and comfortable in his home.