Dog Marking - Why they do it and how to stop it

Dog marking is a dog’s natural and instinctive behavior. Leaving its scent in urine is a way of marking territory and claiming ownership. In the wild, this is natural normal behavior, but inside a house, it is frustrating, messy and annoying and can cause expensive damage to your property.

Marking is different from peeing, in that the dog leaves smaller amounts of urine when marking. When you come home to find large puddles of urine on the carpet, do not mistake this as marking.

Marking serves as the dog’s way to claim territory, to notify potential partners that they are ready for mating and to set out the hierarchy of the pack. It is also used to deter possible trespassers onto the dog’s turf without the need for the dog to physically challenge every dog that approaches.

Male dogs generally mark more than females, although a female dog coming into heat will use marking to let the male dogs in the area know she is ready for mating.

Typical marking behavior

When a dog marks an area, they use a small amount of urine usually aimed at vertical surfaces such as couches, tables and walls. This will usually be done on new furniture in the house, or items with unfamiliar smells such as a visitors hand bag. It is also common for older dogs to mark territory when there is more than one dog in the house to establish leadership and dominance.

Having their scent on furniture and unfamiliar objects makes them feel secure and is a common behavior for dogs who suffer from insecurity.

The main purpose of marking is to inform competitors and enemies that the property belongs to your dog and they need to stay away. This can be triggered by the introduction of a new puppy or baby into the home, visitors the dog does not know, changes in the normal routine and moving to a new home.

Dogs who suffer from separation anxiety often also mark territory while the owner is away because they feel anxious when you are away. Leaving an item of worn clothing with your familiar smells may alleviate and settle their anxiety enough to prevent them from marking.

How to stop your dog marking

There are a number of methods you can use to stop your dog from marking. Obviously, prevention is better than cure and the first step is usually neutering for male dogs or spaying a female dog. This prevents the habit from starting as the young dog does not have a need to assert dominance or advertise mating availability. Marking is usually a behavior that dogs develop when they reach mating age and as the natural behavior in the wild would be to establish a turf and find a mate they start to lay out their claim in your home.

Interrupting and breaking the habit is an effective method used to stop and control. When you see signs such as sniffing and circling indicating that he is ready to leave his mark, make a loud noise to startle the dog and interrupt what he is doing. Use a firm voice to say “No” and then direct the dog outside where he can finish urinating in the garden. If the dog urinates in the garden after you take him outside, it is important to praise him for it. This allows him to create a positive association with peeing outside.

It is extremely important to clean soiled areas thoroughly. Urine soaks into fabrics (particularly those with padding) and can create a significant association to these areas for the dog. Make use of cleaning products or mixtures that remove the odor as well as cleaning such as baking soda or a vinegar and water solution. Do not use ammonia based products as this will only cause the dog to mark again. Ammonia is one of the ingredients in dog urine and will encourage the dog to mark over the ammonia scent from the cleaning agent.

To make the favorite marking place less attractive to mark, place his eating bowl and water bowl right on the spot where he marks regularly. He will not mark an area where his food and belongings are.

If the cause is from a new addition to the family in the form of a pet or baby, it is important to create a positive association with the newest member for your dog. Introducing the new pet on neutral ground will make your older dog less fearful and less inclined to want to assert dominance. Take the time to build a friendship between the new puppy and your dog. Introducing a new baby can also lead to marking. The dog will take offence to your attention now being directed towards the baby. You can make the baby an exciting addition by feeding your dog treats when he is around the new member. It is important to ensure that the dog does not recognize that you are feeding him the treats. The treats need to seem to just appear near the new addition and not be associated with you.

When marking is a territorial and dominance behavior, it is important to establish yourself as the alpha and leader in the house. Training your dog to obey the basic commands such as sit, will allow you to assert control. Once the dog understands he is not the leader, he will be less inclined to mark territory he considers to be yours and not his.

It is important to remember that marking behavior is not associated to house training. Your dog is trying to communicate something with this behavior and no matter how well house trained he is, he will continue to do so unless you take action. Removing the dogs need to mark the territory, such as making the new family member less of a threat, securing your role as leader and alpha is the only solution. The dog needs to be made to feel that it is an unnecessary action.


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