Why do dogs urine mark?

Approved by

Brian Faulkner

Veterinary Surgeon
RCVS Registered
Reviewed/approved by

Nick Jones

Dog Behaviourist and
Dog Expert Witness

Although urine marking is natural canine behaviour, owners can become concerned if their dogs appear to mark excessively or inside their home.

Urine marking is natural behaviour in dogs and, in most cases, it is nothing to worry about. If you’re out on a walk, or even in your garden, the chances are you’ll frequently see your dog urinating in order to mark. Urine marking is a common behaviour in dogs of all ages, including both male and female dogs.

What is urine marking?

When dogs urine mark, they usually only pass a very small amount of urine, often after smelling a particular area before deciding whether or not to mark it. Dogs use urine marking primarily as a way to communicate with each other. The urine they pass contains compounds that reveal their sex, their reproductive status and their mood.

Why does my dog urine mark?

Each time a dog urine marks, they are leaving information about themselves for the next dog to sniff.

Female dogs, for example, will increase their marking behaviour when they’re in season, to indicate their availability to mate. Similarly, male dogs that are not neutered tend to urine mark more than dogs that have been castrated. If your dog is unneutered, and is frequently urine marking at home or in inappropriate places, it might be a good idea to explore neutering as a solution.

Dogs of both sexes will also use urine to mark their territory. Male dogs typically cock their legs, while female dogs generally squat, sometimes with one leg slightly raised – this is called the ‘squat raise’.

Is urine marking in dogs linked to anxiety?

Dogs sometimes urine mark if they’re anxious or frustrated. This can become a problem when it’s happening inside your home. It can also surprise owners of older dogs if they haven’t behaved like this before.

Anxiety or frustration can be caused by a wide range of factors, such as a recent house move, a new pet or a change in routine. There are a number of ways to spot if your dog is stressed so keep an eye out for any changes in behaviour and consider the potential causes. It may be that your dog can hear or see other dogs outside, sparking territorial behaviour.

Dogs can also urinate when they are excited by the arrival of the post, or visitors entering the home. Some dogs are very sensitive to sound, so unusual or scary noises like fireworks or storms can cause dogs to urine mark. Strategies for calming your dog are dependent on the specific causes of their anxiety.

Is dog urine marking caused by health problems?

It is important to recognise that certain medical issues can lead to excessive urination – sometimes inside the home – which is different from urine marking.

As dogs age, some become more susceptible to urinary incontinence due to a weakening of their bladder sphincter. They may also suffer from other health problems, such as arthritis, kidney disease, diabetes and dementia. As a result, they may generate more urine than normal or struggle to retain it overnight. Some dogs become confused about where to urinate, which leads to them breaking their toilet training.

Other pain and health issues can also lead to them toileting inside your home.

How can I stop my dog urine marking outside?

The short answer to this question is that you can’t – although good toilet training will help your dog to understand where they can and can’t toilet.

Nevertheless, you may be concerned if your dog seems to be urine marking more than normal. First of all, determine whether the marking is socially or sexually motivated, or is being caused by anxiety or frustration. Watch your dog for a few days and ask yourself some simple questions: are there lots of other animals nearby, or any that weren’t around before? Are there loud noises, such as building work behind the house? Has anything changed within the household?

If your dog’s urine marking is sexually or socially motivated, then neutering will often reduce the problem. There are a range of other health benefits to neutering as well. Dogs are often neutered at a young age, however, so if an adult dog starts marking, or even urinating excessively, hormones are less likely to be the cause.

A sudden increase in urine marking is a good reason to contact your vet to rule out any medical issues.

Remember, it is normal dog behaviour to urine mark outside of the home.

How can I stop my dog urine marking inside the home?

Dogs may occasionally urinate inside the home for a variety of reasons, including an underlying medical cause or anxiety. Look out for any signs of pain – for example, stiffness getting up, arthritis or a reluctance to move – and ask your vet to do a thorough check-up. With older dogs, some owners might mistake urinary incontinence for dog urine marking, so your vet could also check for this.

If medical causes have been ruled out, your dog may be marking because they feel anxious. In this case, they might benefit from pheromone therapy. Pheromone sprays mimic the feel-good chemicals that dogs produce, which helps to reassure and calm them. Your vet can provide advice about this, too.

Specific triggers of anxiety need to be identified and dealt with. Some triggers, such as seeing or hearing other dogs outside, can be helped by restricting your pet’s view of the external environment or by using the television or music to drown out sounds coming from outside. If other dogs, or people, are the trigger, your dog may need some socialisation training. More complex factors causing dog urine marking, such as noise phobias or other fears, should be discussed with an expert dog behaviourist.

What to do if your dog is urine marking inside the home

Clean up any indoor messes with a solution made of one part biological washing powder or liquid to 10 parts warm water.

Give your dog ample opportunity to urinate outside. Praise your dog for urinating in the ‘correct’ spot (outdoors!) and bear in mind that whatever the cause of your dog’s urine marking, it’s important not to scold them or get angry. Pets don’t understand when we shout at them – it just makes them feel confused and anxious, which is likely to exacerbate the problem. Even if you’ve got an older dog, refreshing their toilet training might be helpful.

One of the simplest ways to stop a dog urine marking inside is to block off the area they are using for a period of time, such as a week or two. Often breaking the habit is enough.

It’s also worth remembering that it can take older pets longer to respond to training or to undo bad habits, than younger ones. If your dog’s urine marking has been going on for some time, you’ll need plenty of patience to pinpoint the problem and help undo the habit.

If the problem persists, it is important to get your dog checked out by your vet for underlying medical issues such as cystitis or urinary crystals.

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