Canine Urine Marking (Indoors)

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Urine marking is an instinct among male dogs and even some females — dogs being dogs — but when a dog lives indoors, urine marking can be torture for the owner. Neutering (or spaying, though female dogs mark far less than male dogs) is the first step to ending the act, but training and behavior modification may also be necessary. Positive reinforcement, confinement, scent elimination, and minimizing anxieties are all helpful in reducing marking. An anti-anxiety medication might help some dogs with this problem.

Overview

Canine urine marking is a natural, instinctive behavior in dogs, but it goes without saying that this is not an appropriate indoor activity.

Dogs, especially sexually intact male dogs, urinate on objects to mark their territory or leave a message for other dogs. Urine marking behavior usually begins when the dog reaches sexual maturity.

An intact male dog is most likely to mark when there is a female dog in heat nearby. Intact female dogs are also prone to marking when they are in heat. However, any dog may mark if another dog has urinated anywhere in the house. By urinating on the previous site of urination, the dog essentially “re-marks” that location as its own territory. Unless the scent of the urine is completely removed, the dog is likely to keep urinating there.

In multidog households, dogs (especially those of the same gender) often compete for dominance, a competition that may escalate to urine marking. This same behavior can occur in a too-confident dog that feels dominant to the owner.

Any anxiety-producing situation can trigger urine marking as well. Workmen in the house, the arrival of a new baby, or visiting relatives can all produce anxiety in a dog. Even the addition of a new TV or computer may threaten a dog so that it feels compelled to mark the packing boxes. Rest assured, your dog is not trying to get back at you. Urine marking is a normal, natural behavior — albeit annoying!

Symptoms and Identification

No one needs to be told that his or her dog is urinating inside the house. Urine spots are easily identified, after all. But there is a difference between urine marking and a dog that doesn’t “get” housetraining as a concept.

Marking on corners and vertical surfaces is most typical of urine marking but incomplete housebreaking can look like that, too, sometimes, so hiring a trainer or speaking with a veterinarian or veterinary behaviorist is sometimes necessary to get to a proper diagnosis. Furthermore, it’s always critical to identify whether a dog has a medical condition (such as a urinary tract infection, for example) that may be causing the problem.

Affected Breeds

Dogs of any breed can develop this problem.

Treatment

In most cases, overcoming urine marking requires multiple steps:

Neutering. If the dog is sexually intact, neutering is often the first step. In many cases, male dogs that are neutered stop urine marking within weeks to months of the procedure. Female dogs that are spayed almost always stop the behavior. However, behavior modification is often needed as well.

Scent elimination. It is important to remove the scent of previous urine marks with a good enzymatic cleaner. Camouflaging the odor with another scent is not effective. An enzymatic cleaner can help neutralize the scent to prevent recurrences of the behavior.

Positive reinforcement. A dog should never be punished for urine marking. Punishment can create more anxiety, which may only exacerbate the problem. Instead, the dog should be supervised closely. Interrupt the dog with a firm “no” after catching him/her in the act and take the pet outside. When the dog urinates outside, the dog should be rewarded with praise and treats. Making sure to take a dog outside frequently and always providing rewards for appropriate urination outdoors is essential to maintaining appropriate elimination behaviors.

Confinement. During retraining, it helps to limit a dog’s access to frequently marked areas. Confining a dog to a room or small area by shutting doors or by using baby gates or a crate is helpful in most cases.

Minimizing anxieties. Identifying the factors that are causing a dog anxiety then removing them or minimizing their importance can be very helpful. A D.A.P. (dog appeasing pheromone) collar or diffuser may also help alleviate stress for some dogs. By mimicking the pheromones produced by a mother dog to give her puppies a sense of calm and well-being, this product can help ease anxieties in dogs.

Establishing dominance. Some dogs need to be gently reminded that their owners are dominant and that dogs need to work for rewards.

Medications. As a last resort, some veterinarians prescribe medications. In most cases, dogs are given a type of antidepressant. These drugs often take 4 to 6 weeks to make a difference. However, behavior modification is always the first choice and should continue, even with medications.

Prevention

Neutering early can help, but is no surefire preventative. Identifying and addressing the problem early, before a bad behavior becomes firmly established, is recommended.

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