Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Territorial Marking Behaviour in Dogs

Dogs are territorial animals, ie .they ‘stake out a claim’ to a particular space, area or object, to other people and animals by marking it with a variety of methods and intensity. For example, a dog may bark to drive away what he perceives as intruders to his territory; or a cat may mark a valued object by rubbing it with her face.
Some dogs may go to the extreme of urinating to mark a particular area as their own. Such behaviour should not be mistaken as housesoiling; rather it is a territorial behaviour. To solve the problem, we have to address the underlying reason for your dog’s need to mark his territory in this way.

Difference Between House-soiling And Urine-Marking

Your dog is urine-marking his territory when:

  • The problem is mainly urination as dogs seldom mark with faeces
  • The amount of urine is small and is found mainly on vertical surfaces although dogs do sometimes mark on horizontal surfaces.
  • Leg-lifting and spraying are dominant versions of urine-marking.
  • If your dog is not spayed or neutered as your dog is more likely to urine-mark compared to another dog that is spayed or neutered.
  • Your dog urinates on new objects in the environment (eg a shopping bag, a visitor’s handbag), or objects that have unfamiliar smells, or objects that have another animal’s scent.
  • Your dog has conflicts with other animals in your home. When there’s instability in the pack hierarchy, a dog may feel the need to establish his dominance by urine-marking his territory.
  • Your dog has contact with other animals outside your home, eg if your dog sees another dog through a door or window, he may feel a need to mark his territory.
  • Your dog marks frequently on neighbourhood walks.
What You Can Do:

  • Spay or neuter your dog as soon as possible as it may stop your dog’s urine-marking. However, if he has been urine-marking for a long period of time, it may be difficult to break his pattern of behaviour
  • Resolve conflicts between animals in your home.
  • Restrict your dog’s access to doors and windows through which he can observe animals outside. If this is not possible, discourage the presence of such animals near your home.
  • Clean soiled areas thoroughly. Don’t use strong smelling cleaners as these may cause your dog to ‘over-mark’ the spot.
  • Make previously soiled areas inaccessible or unattractive.
  • If making soiled areas inaccessible or unattractive isn’t possible, try to change the significance of those areas, eg feed, treat and play with your dog in the areas he is inclined to mark. A dog is less inclined to urine-mark areas that he feeds and plays at.
  • Keep objects likely to cause marking out of reach, such as guest’s belongings, new purchases, etc.
  • • If your dog is marking in response to a new resident in your home (eg a new roommate, etc), have the new resident make friends with your dog by feeding, grooming and playing with your dog. Make sure good things happen to your dog when the new resident is around.
  • Watch your dog at all times when he is indoors for signs of his urinating. When he begins to urinate, interrupt him with a loud noise and take him outside. Praise him and give him a treat if he urinates outside. If you are unable to watch your dog, put him in a crate where he has never marked.
  • What You Should NOT Do:
  • Don’t punish your dog after he has urine-marked as punishment administered even a minute after the event is ineffective as he won’t understand why he is being punished.
Dog Aren't People

Remember dogs don’t urinate or defecate out of spite or jealousy.
If he urinates on your baby’s diaper bag, it’s not because he is jealous of, or dislikes your baby. It’s the unfamiliar scents and sounds of a new baby in the house that is causing him to reaffirm his claim on his territory.

Dominance or Anxiety?


Urine-marking is usually associated with dominance behaviour. While this is often the case, some dogs may mark when they feel anxious or upset.

For example, a new baby in the house brings new sounds, smells and people, as well as changes in routine. Your dog probably isn’t getting as much attention as he was used to getting, which cause him to feel anxious. As a result, he may start to urine-mark.
If your dog is feeling anxious, you may want to consider talking to your veterinarian about medications to reduce his anxiety while you work on behaviour modification.

- extracted from Dumb Friends League (TMBI_R00)

Kum Chee
A Happy Dog Lover and Owner

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