Can Dog Marking Territory
Behavior be Stopped?

A dog marking territory has a whole different purpose than a dog urinating as a result of a physiological urge. You should also not confuse it with submissive urinations, another condition that affects many puppies and dogs.

Just as humans erect fences and create boundaries from a property to another, dogs use urine to draw the boundaries and limitations of what they perceive as their territory.

But while your dog's territory marking may be an appropriate behavior in the wild, when it occurs in your home, it's not only annoying but also destructive.

Telling apart territorial marking from regular urination is fundamental for dog owners so to approach the behavior in the most appropriate way.

Understanding Urine Marking in Dogs

The act of urine marking carries a variety of functions among canines and other animals.

As already mentioned, marking can be carried for the purpose of delineating territory and protecting valuable resources from intruders. As much as this may seem like a confrontational approach, in reality, this helps avoid conflicts and prevents unnecessary fights. Some dogs also proceed to adding further visual cues to their urine by leaving scratch marks with their rear legs.

Urine marking may also have other functions.

"Pee mail" is a great way to leave notes for other dogs to analyze. The receiver may detect important identifying information such as sexual receptivity and social status. Some dogs may also engage in territorial marking when they are stressed, such as following a new move, so to make things "smell familiar" again.

Regardless of the cause, when dog marking territory takes place in the home, this behavior is obviously frowned upon by most owners.

Dog Marking Territory

The Typical Dog Marking Territory Candidate

In most cases, an intact male is the most common candidate for territorial marking. However, intact females are also notoriously known for urine marking, especially before and during estrus. But neutering and spaying your pet does not guarantee that territory marking will stop; indeed, at times, some altered dogs may engage in the behavior at the same rate as intact dogs.

Stressed dogs may attempt to urine mark when a new guest, new dog or a new baby is introduced to the home. This type of marking is caused by the dog's desire to let the visitors know that this territory belongs to him. More aggressive dogs, on the other hand, will try to "lay claim to a new territory" when they are guests in someone else's home.

In some cases, a dog may also mark out of over-stimulation and excitement derived from arousing social situations. In these cases, objects, people or other dogs may be the victims of this form of marking.

While marking a bush, fire hydrant or electric pole poses no particular problem for most owners, it is when dogs start urine marking indoors that problems arise.

Marking Territory or Physiological Urination?

Telling a dog marking territory apart from a dog urinating is important.

Typically, a dog marking territory is particularly interested in targeting vertical items that are at nose level to most dogs. Fire hydrants, poles, trees, bushes and tires are some of the favorite items. Another telltale sign of urine marking is a small release of urine, versus the more consistent puddle left from a dog urinating for physiological reasons.

Many dogs that are champions in urine marking will also gauge their urine output carefully. In other words, they will ration their urine so to ensure they have enough left for all the areas they wish to mark. A dog that is sent outdoors to urinate and then comes right back inside only to urinate again on the chair, is most likely engaging in territorial marking.

This behavior has nothing to do with house training issues; indeed, the purpose of a dog marking territory is to purely leave their scent on certain items.

How to Reduce Indoor Territorial Marking

First and foremost, it is imperative to rule out medical conditions, especially when a perfectly house-trained dog decides to urinate indoors out of the blue. Urinary tract infections and age-related incontinence are some common causes for frequent dog urination.

With medical conditions ruled out, the next step is to ensure that the areas marked are cleaned properly. Failure to do so will likely translate in more urine marking. Just as a bathroom sign is a visual indicator of a toilet in the human world, in the canine world, the smell of previously marked areas acts as a big, flashing "bathroom" sign.

By the way, when marking occurs indoors, the most likely targets are soft and absorbent objects. Why? Because these objects retain the smell for much longer period of time than non-absorbent targets.

The best products to clean soiled areas are enzyme-based dog urine cleaners that work by neutralizing odors. These products contain live microorganisms that will literally eat up the bacteria. With bacteria out of the way, the smell is ultimately gone.

The correct use of cleaning products can really make a big difference; indeed, products like ammonia can exacerbate the problem because to a dog's nose ammonia smells like urine.

How to Stop Territory Marking

In order to effectively stop territorial marking, it is fundamental to work on the underlying issue causing the marking behavior in the first place.

Dog neutering, for instance, is known to reduce or eliminate household territorial marking in about 60 to 70 percent of cases.

Marking due to recent changes and stress can be reduced by limiting exposure to objects routinely marked, investing in Dog Appeasing Pheromone diffusers and for severe cases, consulting with dog behavior professionals.

Scolding or physically punishing a dog for marking will not likely work; indeed, a dog may learn to associate the owner with punishment and decide to mark when the owner is out of sight.

Teaching a dog alternative behaviors to urine marking is a much better approach. For instance, a dog can be trained the "leave it" command or can be taught to mark exclusively outdoors by redirecting inappropriate marking and rewarding the use of a specific outdoor target.

Management plays a crucial role in preventing marking behaviors. For example, crates can make great management tools for when the dog cannot be supervised. Deterrent sprays may also be helpful in making certain areas undesirable for the dog. Limiting access to areas commonly marked is another way to prevent house soiling from taking place.

Here is a brief video that talks about some of the things we just covered in this article...

Final Thoughts...

Dog marking territory is a behavior that has nothing to do with a need to urinate; in fact, it is for the most part, an instinctive behavior. For this reason, dog marking is not one of the easiest problems to eradicate.

While acceptable in the wild, the behavior of a dog marking territory indoors can be frustrating and quite destructive for many dog owners. Fortunately, there are several strategies to successfully manage and considerably reduce unwanted dog marking territory indoors.

Related Articles

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Want to learn more?

Puppy Training

If you are not sure if your dog's urination is due to territory marking or he just needs more house training, I highly recommend you read these house training and dog behavior and obedience training guides.

By the way, even older dogs may need to be house trained, and the house training guide offers a lot of advice aimed at older dogs.


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