Labeling things as our own is common practice among humans—we buy monogrammed towels and write our names on luggage tags. Similarly, dogs mark territory as their own. To do this, dogs will urinate a small amount on vertical surfaces—this is called urine marking.
Urine marking is very normal when done outside and is a standard form of communication among dogs. You’ll notice dogs lifting a rear leg and doing it on fences, trees and other areas, but it becomes a big problem if your pooch is suddenly urine marking within your home.
But why is it happening and how can you stop it?
Why dogs urine mark in the first place
While dogs that have not been spayed or neutered are more likely to urine mark, many dogs mark their territory every once in a while. The reason is to establish dominance by leaving their smell for other dogs to sniff. If a dog smells the scent of another dog in its environment, it will likely mark there to cover it up with its own scent.
Some medical issues in dogs might be mistaken for urine marking, such as urinary incontinence, urinary tract infections or other diseases. Urination can also be cause by excitement, a lack of house training or anxiety. Because random urination can be linked to medical issues, you may want to speak with your veterinarian to rule out these problems before working on urine marking training.
Sudden marking in the house
Most dogs will urine mark outside of the home, particularly while on walks or in the park where other dogs have been. This behavior is very normal. However, if your dog suddenly begins marking inside the house, it might be because of a few different things:
- Territorial response: Your dog might randomly urine mark in your own home if it notices the smell of another dog inside. This may be because a dog recently visited the home and marked, as well. Or, perhaps someone in the house visited another home that had a dog and the smell is evident on a pair of shoes or a bag.
- New pet: The introduction of a new pet may cause your dog to suddenly start urine marking, especially if it feels threatened. Urine marking is a way for your dog to establish dominance, so it may begin marking to show the house is theirs in the face of a new pet.
- Unfamiliar object: New objects such as new furniture, carpeting and other things might be enough to trigger your dog to urine mark. This might also stem from anxiety, which is a cause of urine marking in some dogs.
- New family member: Bringing home a new baby or having a new family member move in might cause your dog to be stressed, which can trigger urine marking, as well. The urine marking may stop once the dog becomes familiar with the new person.
Preventing future marking
Obviously, no homeowner wants to continue to clean up urine within the home, so preventing your dog from urine marking is the next step. There are a number of things you can try to keep your dog from marking, but it may take patience and even behavior training to get it to stop:
- Clean the marked area: Thoroughly clean the areas your dog marked with odor-removing cleaners. This can remove the initial smell that caused your dog to want to mark and hopefully prevent it from happening again.
- Make marked areas inaccessible: Try to make the place your dog tends to urine mark inaccessible or unattractive by using baby gates or covering the area with double-sided tape or other deterring surfaces, so your dog can’t or doesn’t want to go there to mark.
- Use positive reinforcement: Try placing treats or food in the spots your dog is marking in the house. This can help switch your dog’s view of the area from one of marking to one of food.
- Train marking on an acceptable place: Train your dog to mark on an acceptable area outside rather than inside. Expose the dog to the scent of another dog, then lead it to the safe place to mark. Continue this process over time to make it a learned behavior.
Punishing your dog for marking is not advisable, as the dog will likely not understand what it did wrong and this can lead to fear and anxiety, which may even make the marking worse. Instead, remain patient and speak with your vet to find another solution if the marking issue is not going away.