Do you roll your eyes at your dog's habit of peeing on every single rock and tree while he walks? Does it frustrate or embarrass you, especially when he marks on something less appropriate? Is there anything you can do about this behavior, also known as dog marking?
What Does Marking Mean?
In your dog's head, marking his territory with a small amount of urine is likely just a simple way of saying "hello" to other dogs that might be nearby. It's a totally normal and instinctive way for dogs to communicate, and something they've been doing since humans started tracking their behavior. Beyond basic communication, there are several reasons why dogs mark.
- The dog hasn't been fixed: Male dogs that have not been neutered are more likely to mark their territory than dogs that have been fixed. One study, published in the journal Animal Behavior, showed "high-status dogs" marked territory more often than lower status dogs. So perhaps your dog is simply king of the hill! While marking is typically an issue with male dogs, unspayed female dogs will sometimes mark territory as well, especially just before and during heat.
- The dog is overly excited: New and super exciting social situations can make your dog want to mark everything in sight. Reasons for overstimulation include a female dog in heat nearby, or even just a dog visiting a home or park where other dogs have marked before.
- Someone new has visited: In his head, a dog's territory might encompass not just his home and yard, but also the route he takes on walks, and other homes or parks he regularly visits. If another dog has been in your dog's "territory" recently, your dog might feel the need to mark as a way to assert ownership.
- The dog has medical issue: You might think your dog is marking his territory, but the reason for all that peeing might be due to an underlying medical condition. Some conditions that can cause frequent urination include incontinence, urinary tract infections and reactions to medication. Visit your veterinarian to rule out these issues before attempting to train your dog not to mark.
It's also worth noting that some dogs pee frequently for reasons other than marking, including conditions like submissive urination and separation anxiety — or simply poor house training. Understanding the reasons for your dog's behavior is the critical first step in addressing it.
Can You Put a Stop to It?
Despite the fact that dog marking is a natural behavior displayed by your dog's ancestors long ago, in today's age it can be embarrassing or annoying to have a dog that frequently feels the urge to mark his territory. So how can you stop, or at least reduce, your dog's urge? UC Davis School of Veterinary Medicine has a few suggestions.
- Identify why your dog is marking: Knowing your dog always marks when he's overly excited, for instance, can help you avoid that situation for yourself and your dog. If you avoid the triggers, you can likely avoid the marking.
- Stop it before it starts: The longer a dog goes before neutering, the more difficult it is to get him to stop marking later on. For most pet owners, it's a good idea to neuter dogs at a young age. Neutering your dog, especially when he's a puppy, will most likely reduce marking — and may prevent it altogether.
- Neuter or spay other animals in the house: If another dog — a female in particular — is experiencing hormonal changes, even a neutered dog might respond by marking more frequently.
- Create a routine:Establish spots outside the house or on your walking route where marking is acceptable. Train your dog to recognize those spots by rewarding him when he marks there. Leash training can also reduce the number of instances your dog stops to mark. Keeping him on a shorter leash that doesn't allow him to wander across the sidewalk to every tree and pole in sight can help reduce his urge to mark.
Avoiding bad practices is as important as following good ones. If you yell at your dog or punish him in other ways when he is in the midst of marking, he might begin to hide the behavior, making it even more difficult to stop. You need to remember that marking is a natural instinctive behavior for your dog, and while there are ways to minimize, it is worth remembering that most dog parents experience this behavior. If you want to reduce the amount your dog marks, just be patient with him and carefully train and work with him, and he will start to reward you with better walks.
Kara Murphy is a freelance writer and pet parent who lives in Erie, Pa. She has a goldendoodle named Maddie.