Urine Marking (Part 1)

Dogs mark to communicate with each other, and also when they’re anxious. Learn why your dog is marking and what you can do about it.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
April 29, 2013
Episode #196

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Horowitz also points out that dogs kept by themselves in kennels don’t mark much, whereas dogs kept with other dogs mark every day. Also, dogs will sniff lots of places where there’s old pee, but they won’t mark in all those spots. These two observations clue us in that marking is not only directed toward an audience, but also it communicates specifically with certain members of that audience. Horowitz thinks it’s about sex – as she puts it, “seeking it oneself, or declaring oneself fit to be seeked” – though all dogs will mark more when a new dog of either sex shows up.

Pee Is Information!

So what are dogs communicating when they mark? At a minimum, their sex and when and how often they visited the marked spot. Horowitz thinks dogs overmark the pee of less dominant dogs – I’m less sure about that. Most people who study social behavior talk about dominance in the context of who controlled a particular interaction, not about dominance as a kind of character trait. That’s because the fact that Dogalini controls one interaction doesn’t make it a foregone conclusion that she’ll control another – she can dominate one time and be subordinate the next.

Marking and Stress

Horowitz doesn’t mention a link between marking and stress, but probably most trainers would agree there is one. Dogs may mark immediately after a tense encounter – for instance, after passing a dog who barks and lunges on leash, or after one of those on-leash staring contests you often see. And then there’s indoor marking – something I hear about plenty from my listeners.

Some indoor marking isn’t so much marking as plain old peeing, and in that case it’s back to square one in housetraining, please. But if Mr. Marker used to be perfectly housetrained, he should get a vet check to make sure a health problem isn’t causing him to make more pee or to experience urgency. Also, ask about medication side effects. Meds may make him drink more, or make him produce urine more quickly, or both. In that case, he needs more frequent toilet breaks.

Newly adopted dogs, especially male dogs, and especially male dogs who were just neutered or haven’t yet been neutered, often seem to mark in their first few days at home. Also, sometimes moving sets off a bout of marking, even in dogs who’ve had the same guardian for years. Whether we call this stress or excitement or a normal response to a big transition, it seems to taper off quickly. It’s smart to treat it as incomplete housetraining, just in case. Put your new dog, or your newly moved dog, on a schedule with plenty of toilet breaks. A predictable, safe routine is important for helping dogs settle into a new home, anyway.