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Why dogs urine mark

Urine marking can prove a common problem for many dog owners. Behaviourist Inga MacKellar explains the reasons behind it and offers some advice for tackling the issue where it’s unwelcome

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Marking their territory

Why does my dog do this?

Urine marking is something both male and female dogs do, primarily as a way to communicate with each other. The urine they place contains chemical compounds that give out information about their sex and sexual state. Bitches, for example, will increase their marking behaviour when they’re in season, to indicate their availability to mate, while male dogs that are not neutered tend to urine mark more than those that are. Dogs of both sexes will also use urine to mark their territory. Male dogs typically cock their legs, while bitches generally squat, sometimes with a slightly raised leg – this is called the ‘squat raise’.

Dogs also urine mark if they’re anxious or frustrated, which can become a problem when it’s happening in your home. Anxiety or frustration can be caused by a wide range of factors: it may be that your dog can hear or see other dogs outside, sparking territorial behaviour, or he or she may be excited by the arrival of the postman or visitors. Some dogs are very sensitive to sound, so unusual or scary noises like fireworks or storms can cause them to urine mark.

If your dog is under-socialised, he or she may be generally anxious and find it difficult to cope with new situations, such as changes to the home or routine, or meeting unknown people or other dogs. Moving home can be a high stress factor for dogs, and conflict between pet dogs in the same household is another cause of urine marking.

What can I do about it?

First of all, you need to 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 something changed within the household?

If the urine marking is sexually or socially motivated, then neutering will often reduce the problem (and has a range of other health benefits, too) while a generally anxious dog may be helped by pheromone therapy. Sprays such as Adaptil mimic the natural pheromones that dogs produce, helping to reassure and calm them – your vet can provide advice about this. More specific anxieties or frustrations also need to be identified and dealt with. Some factors, such as getting excited by the arrival of the postman or hearing other dogs outside, can be helped by restricting your pet’s view of the external environment and using music to muffle outside sounds. More complex factors causing urine marking, such as noise phobias or other fears, should be discussed with a professional behaviour counsellor.

Clean up any indoor messes with a solution made of one part biological washing powder or liquid to ten parts warm water. Praise your dog for urine marking in the ‘correct’ spot (outdoors!) and bear in mind that whatever the cause of the urine marking, it’s important not to scold. Pets don’t understand when we shout at them – it just makes them feel confused and anxious, making the problem worse.

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