The Wall Street Journal: April 30, 2011 With licks and wags, two huskies, Rocky and Sophie, greet Ron Vecchio at the 10th stop on his Tuesday route. They know that in the four minutes it takes him to flick their backyard droppings into a debris pail, he’ll toss them some dog biscuits. Ron and his wife, READ MORE>>
Help! My Dog is Ruining My House!
In the article “How do I stop my dog from eating his poop! Coprophagia,” we write about how our rescue dog Rusty had the disgusting habit of eating his own waste. Not only did he love to eat poop, but he also loved to urinate on our couches, chairs, bed skirts, and new curtains. It was pretty upsetting at the time, because we love Rusty and he’s a good friend.
Fortunately, once he integrated into his new family, he stopped marking in the house. Of course, trees, mailboxes, lampposts and shrubs continue to be fair game. After all, he is a well adjusted dog!
The purpose of this article is to help you understand why your dog marks and to provide some tips to help you reduce and eliminate the behavior.
Marking behavior is a learned behavior and once it starts, it is very difficult to stop. It is much better to prevent your dog from marking in the first place, than to correct the behavior once it has started.
Marking is your dog’s way of communicating to other dogs his sexual availability and territory ownership.
In the wild, the highest-ranking wolf in a pack marks territory to signal to the other wolves that he is in charge of the area and to stay away. Because the social hierarchy of the pack is clearly defined, lower-ranking members understand that marking territory is not their job.
When dogs live with human families, however, their position in the pack is frequently less clearly defined. As a result, they may mark territory because they assume the role of pack leader.
Correcting Marking Behavior
There are several ways of “erasing” a dog’s marking:
- Establish a clear hierarchy – To reduce marking behavior, it is very important that your “pack” has a clear hierarchy, and that you are leader of the pack! Simple steps to establish yourself as pack leader include not allowing your dog to sleep on the bed with you. Sleeping on the bed elevates him to your status and sometimes creates status confusion. Once your dog understands that he is not the leader, he’ll feel less need to mark. He can rest; that’s someone else’s job!
- Neuter as early as possible – Urine marking is triggered by a change in hormones. Dogs that reach sexual maturity advertise their prowess by leaving their scent behind them. Dogs that do not reach sexual maturity will not. The earlier you neuter your dog, the less likely he will need to mark.
- Do not physically punish your dog – He won’t get the point! In fact, NEVER physically punish your dog! Instead, focus on changing the relationship between you and your dog to establish that you are the leader.
- Supervise your dog closely to get him to stop – Catching him “in the act” is an extremely effective way to curtail marking behavior.
- Remove all urine odors from affected areas – Don’t leave an invitation for him to re-mark an area again. “Oh yeah, that’s mine!” he might say to himself, “I almost forgot….” You will need to use an enzyme deodorizer to completely remove the urine odor and you will need to be vigilant.
- Use training aids – Crating is used to prevent your dog from urine marking, because dogs will not eliminate in an enclosed space.
- Talk with your veterinarian – Sometimes marking may be the result of anxiety your dog experiences when you leave the home. Your veterinarian may be able to prescribe your dog anti-anxiety medication that will help them to experience less anxiety when you leave the home. Dogs may also be more likely to mark if they are sick or have an underlying condition such as an ear or bladder infection. Your veterinarian will be able to examine your dog to look for physical conditions that may be increasing the frequency your dog marks in the house.
Belly bands wrap around the dog’s belly and prevent him from urinating on objects. If the dog is wearing the belly band and he marks, the belly band will function like a diaper and hold the urine. Dogs don’t like being wet and they will normally stop marking once they learn that marking makes them uncomfortable.
A shaker can can be made by taking an empty soda can and filling it with coins and then taping the opening closed to prevent the coins from flying out. The shaker can makes a lot of noise when you shake it up and down. Watch your dog for signs that he is going to mark (for example, he’s doing circles around his “mark”). As he is about to lift his leg: shake the can only once to get his attention. The loud noise should frighten him and interrupt what he is doing. Give him commands not to pee and when he doesn’t, praise him for not peeing. This helps to send positive messages and encourages your dog not to mark.