Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Understanding the Urinating/Marking Behavior in Dogs
''My dog urinates in the home." This is a common complaint I hear from owners. They have hope I'll turn into a dog detective and help them shut off the ''doggy sprinkler system." Truth is, it is not that easy a task. There are many causes for house soiling and often, you need to see the behavior to understand its reason.
The 3 Reasons a Dog Might Urinate in the Home
- Age/Lack of Training. If it's a puppy, I tell them to have lots of patience and consider the process similar to their toddler's potty training. I also print them out a copy of my article: ''Secret Strategies for Potty Training Your Puppy.''
- Marking. If the dog is an adult, I sometimes notice the owners have a hard time recognizing the difference between peeing and urine marking. It's like comparing apples to oranges: regular urination is physiological, meaning it is a natural bodily function with the purpose of emptying the bladder. Urine marking, on the other hand, is intentional, meaning the dog does it with a specific purpose in mind.
- Medical Complications. There is also a third type of urination; that is, urinating due to a medical problem. In this case, the urination is accidental: the dog does not mean to soil in the house, but due to a medical condition, he or she is unable to normally withhold the urine output as he or she would normally do.
Why Is My Dog Marking?
After ruling out medical conditions by supplying the vet with a urine sample, the question, therefore, remains: Is my dog urinating or marking? There are various tell-tale signs that help us distinguish the two.
But first of all, let's debunk a myth: Intact males are not the only ones to urine mark; spayed and intact females and neutered males indeed can also be marking!
Why Is My Dog Urine Marking?
Marking is the deliberate act of urinating for other purposes other than physiologically emptying the bladder. The purposes for marking may be various. In my experience, I have noticed several forms of marking which I will list here:
- Territorial Marking: This form of marking is for the main purpose of labeling ''property.'' Just as we humans ''mark our territory'' by erecting property lines such as fences or brick walls, dogs ''urine mark'' their yards so other dogs or animals are aware that ''Mr. Dog lives here.'' Note: A dog's property lines may extend way over fences and other boundaries we set. Some dogs urine mark around the neighborhood, further expanding their boundaries. Some dogs think indeed they own the whole neighborhood! Dogs may urine mark over smells left from other animals and dogs within the area.
- Business Card Marking: In this type of marking, the dog does not urinate to specifically mark its territory. The dog may mark in areas that do not belong to him to simply leave what trainers call ''pee mail.'' For instance, a dog may mark on walks upon passing an area with barking dogs or at the dog park. The urine is left for the other dogs to inspect. The other dogs perceive a lot of information from these drippings, such as the dog's sex, age, rank, sexual availability and more. Female dogs in heat may urine mark more frequently prior to their heat and while in heat, so to inform nearby males about their sexual status.
- Stress Marking: In some cases, dogs urine mark when they are stressed. In these cases, the marking is used to cover unfamiliar smells that concern the dog. These new smells, once covered in urine, smell familiar again, and the dog therefore feels a bit less stressed. This is often seen when new guests arrive in the home, a new baby is introduced, or a new pet is in the home. The dog therefore purposely, marks over things that smell ''new'' so comon targets may be the newborn baby's blanket, the guest's luggage, or the new dog bed where the new dog is sleeping.
- Anxiety Urination: Some dogs urinate when they are left alone in the home. In this case, this may be a sign of separation anxiety. Affected dogs pace, whine, howl, urinate, defecate, and generally feel miserable when they are left alone at home. Generally, this form of urination happens only when the dog is isolated from family members.
- Submission Urination: In these cases, the dog is basically manifesting submission to another dog or person. The puppy will typically flip on its back and urinate almost as if saying ''Please don't hurt me, I respect you!'' Submissive urination also takes place when the puppy is excited to see the owner or guests. The puppy can't contain its excitement and it is almost as if saying ''I am soooo excited, I mean no harm. I am only a puppy and respect you!'' This type of ''urine marking'' is accompanied by submissive body posture such as flattened ears, lowered body, ducked head, cowering, and rolling over. Scolding a puppy for this type of urination will only make the puppy urinate more and more. Most puppies overcome this form of urination once they grow and build confidence.
Scolding the dog for marking in many cases only exacerbates the problem. It is best to determine what may be causing the marking in the first place and work on it. Neutering a dog may reduce marking linked to hormonal motives, however, it is important to keep in mind that it may still continue to some extent if it has become a routine in the dog's life.
So Is My Dog Urinating or Marking?
Marking, is therefore, carried in different circumstances and for different purposes. But what helps distinguish urinating physiologically from purposely marking? Following are some general guidelines:
- Marking unlike urination is a small dribble of urine. Some dogs do not completely empty their bladder when they urinate so they ''save'' some urine for the purpose of marking. Dogs that are sent to urinate and then come back inside to urinate again in the home, very likely either suffer from a urinary problem, or are purposely saving some urine so they can mark once back inside. Some dogs however, may fail to completely empty their bladder if it is cold outside or raining as they are rushing to come back inside.
- Most males urine mark by lifting their rear leg. Females may squat quickly but some will also lift their rear legs as well, and some are also good at lifting both legs!
- Marking is often carried on vertical items, however this is not a general rule. Dogs like to mark on vertical items because they are at a dog's nose level and are therefore more likely to grab attention. But marking may take place anywhere.
- The age when the marking occurs also gives a clue. According to the ASPCA, ''A study of urine marking revealed that urine marking started as follows: 10% started urine marking at 3 months of age, 20% started by 6 months, 40% started by 12 months, 70% by 1 year and a half, and 90% by 2 years.
- Marking generally takes place on items or areas where other dogs or animals marked. Many dogs mark on street lamps and electric poles, therefore, a dog urinating vertically on these items does so because of a social trigger. More ''dominant'' dogs may feel like ''over-marking'' urine marks left by more subordinate dogs.
And What About Kicking Up Dirt?
Some dogs bring urine marking a step forward and will kick up dirt by extending their rear legs. By doing this, the dog is also leaving ''visual marks'' on the terrain, just as arrows pointing to the area that deserves attention. Some presume that dogs also leave scent by scratching the dirt, and therefore the scratching dirt is a more pronounced way of claiming territory. The only problem is that dogs do not have scent glands on paws, however, we all know that dogs paws have a characteristic odor. For more on this read on dog sweaty paws.
Urine marking frequently begins after the age of sexual maturity, which is around 6 to 12 months of age.
— Dr. John Ciribassi, veterinary behaviorist
As seen, urinating and marking are two different entities. As so, they both require different approaches.
- Understanding Dog Territorial Marking
In the human world, people use doors and fences in order to protect their homes and claim their territory. Such structures are a very convenient way to send the message that the property belongs to somebody...
- Secret Strategies for Potty Training your Puppy
Learn effective strategies for potty training your puppy. How to potty train your puppy faster and more effectively.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
Questions & Answers
Question: My dog is four-years-old, and he is left in the kitchen, since by doing this, there have been no accidents. He usually sleeps in his bed with us. But he is either urinating or marking during the night, as you can smell it. I've tried walking him before we go to bed and removing his water a few hours before. Any ideas on how to stop this? What's the best way to remove the smell, so it deters him?
Answer: This is quite interesting. Makes me wonder whether your Chi may be peeing in the kitchen, but you just don't find any drops because he walks around and steps on it or it gets absorbed if he sleeps on a doggy bed and by the morning the signs are gone versus you feeling the wetness when he sleeps in bed with you.
A good place to start is a vet visit just in case your dog may leak during sleep due to a weakened urinary sphincter. This form of urinary incontinence is a far more common condition in spayed female dogs, but occasionally may take place in neutered male dogs.
Alternatively, it could truly be your dog is marking when on the bed. I would expect him to get up and walk around when he does this rather than passively peeing during sleep.
The best product to clean messes is an enzyme-based cleaner such as Nature's Miracle. Some dog owners have had success with dog marking by making their dogs wear belly bands.
Last but not least, are you sure it's urine and not saliva? Some dogs may sleep with their mouths a bit open causing little puddles of drool.
Question: I have a thirteen-year-old toy poodle who never had accidents in the house except when my daughter's female dog is on her period. Then he seems to do it all the time! What can I do? The female dog is nine-years-old and too old to get fixed! Are there other options?
Answer: This is a difficult call considering that the male dog's behavior is carried out by instincts. Contrary to what you may have heard, many vets believe that nine is not old to spay a dog. Intact female dogs are particularly predisposed to pyometra and the chances of developing it increase as they age. Many vets think it is best to spay an older dog when they are healthy rather than spaying on an emergency basis when the dog is critically ill with life-threatening pyometra. An alternative option is to let the male dog wear belly bands for the duration of the dog's heat.
© 2012 Adrienne Farricelli
kay on April 19, 2019:
I have a four year old westie and a 16 month old westie. The four year old has started every now and again i think marking his bed as there isnt alot of it but just enough that i have to wash it all. Just wondering how to stop this.
Luna's mommy on September 10, 2018:
We just got a new dog due to a death in the family and my 7yr old dog has now peed on the bed twice once on me i feel like shes marking her territory but how do you know for sure??
Dawn Marie on December 16, 2017:
We moved to another state about 9 months ago. Over the past 2 months my 4 year old doodle has started, what I believe to be marking. First we found a pee mark on the bottom of my daughter's bed. I thought it was perhaps an accident and tried taking him out more. He did it again. Then the guest room. Then my other daughter's room. We visited a friend and I was so embarassed -- he did the same thing on her bed. It has to be marking. My dog has been house trained for years and I'm home with him all day and we go out several times. Can I even get him to stop this behavior?
Jen on December 12, 2017:
I have a 4 year old spayed female and now I have taken in an intact year old male. The young male only seems to mark when I go out. Problem is it is my sofa usually the side or corner and sometimes side of the outside door. I soak the areas down with straight vinegar as soon as I return. I am hoping neutering him may help. I never had this problem with any other males in the past. They always did these things out side.
Seb on October 02, 2017:
I have a 2 yr old dog recently has been sleeping in our bed with his mum as lost our old dog and wouldn't settle downstairs. Now the bed smells but I've not once seen him peeing on the bed neither does he move all night. There are no urine marks which I thought there would be. Please help I'm at my tether !!! Even I when I left him downstairs it would always smell of urine in the morning.
Melynda on September 05, 2017:
Where can I find the color difference in urine and marking pee
DT on February 14, 2017:
When I use the black light, I don't see the marking area's like people & the product claims. I tried using it & when I found a fresh spot, I shined the light on it & it did not light up....my dog probably has been marking for months & I don't know it.
Carol on January 29, 2017:
I am at the end of my rope. My 11 month old papillon is marking in the house and he was fixed at 7 months. He just did it on my bed by my pillow again! He goes out the doggie door several times a day and does his business. He has peed on anything he doesn't want the other dog going near. she is a 6 yr old spayed shih tzu. He is the first dog I have ever owned that has done this and I have owned many dogs over the last 60 years. Help!!
tarajo on March 01, 2016:
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I have two little male dogs. One 4+ years, the other not even 2. Is there any way to detect which one or if both, are the one initiating the marking? They seem to constantly want to mark over one another.. I'm at my wits end.. (haven't tried much yet) and I don't wanna give up on them, I know it's not an act of wrongdoing addressed towards me!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 27, 2014:
I have worked with several headstrong dogs, but more than headstrong I see dogs that are confused, insecure and in need of routine and abesolute consistency. Premack principle works wonders for these guys.With serious markers, that means never leaving the dog out of sight removing obstacles so the dog is always in plain view. In my training room that means removing agility tunnels, playpens, etc. The process is similar to potty training, going back to basics. Some dogs with a history of being punished for marking will mark the split second you turn your head. Umbilical cording can help. Leaving the whole run of the house sets them to failure and allows rehearsal of behavior. It,s not easy, but with loads of patience progress happens.
Anne Gillingham from Los Angeles, CA on September 26, 2014:
I think his motivations for marking are quite simple actually. He feels safe and comfortable in the house and he is something of a "couch potato" by temperament. He is also a very headstrong and I hate to say it, "thick skulled" little dog. I swear to Goodness if he wants something he will dart at it or bolt at it and dousing him with gasoline and setting him on fire wouldn't stop it! He is getting better about minding his manners when he is being supervised. It has only been a year and a half, after all. LOL!
I don't know if you have ever worked with dogs with this particular temperament but believe me, it takes some patience.
Before he was neutered it was awful. He wanted to mark everygoddamnthing. But now it is he occasional squirt if he thinks he can get away with it.
I personally believe he is doing it because he wants to feel like he owns stuff in the house. He wants the house to smell more like him because it makes him feel more secure. He wants it to be his house, and well ... sorry Charlie. He honestly seems too dense to "get it" that this behavior literally "pisses people off" (pun intended.)
If given the chance, he would mark every single leg and corner in the house, urinate on every couch and bed, and enjoy taking a steaming crap on the kitchen floor. He knows that this is unacceptable but he doesn't really care, actually. He seriously does not give a damn because what he is most interested in, is his agenda.
It is messed up.
My strategy is to bring him back in, give him a very basic kennel and lots of attention and affection, belly-band on if he is out of his little "hole." I want to build up his self-confidence literally from the ground up. I want to make his need to mark and bolt in and out of doors of no service to him.
I have a black light. Sadly it has never worked for me detecting urine from cats and dogs, but it seems to be good for food stains and mice. Even with a black light, I am still not going to come home to a pissoir, no way jose. It doesn't do the dog any good if we tolerate an occasional "oops" because we are actually supporting a neurotic habit that is of no benefit to the dog.
In his case one "oops" would turn into 25. Yeah, this is quite awful but I am working on it the best I can.
Michelle Liew from Singapore on September 26, 2014:
Ah, so I know Cloudy is leaving Pee Mail around. Trying to catch male attention!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 26, 2014:
If you need a helpful tool to detect urine spots, try investing in a black light. The marked areas should appear fluorescent making them readily identifiable. Afterward, use an enzyme-based cleaner like Nature's Miracle which removes traces of odor. It helps to identify why the dog is marking. Is his bladder empty before you go to work? Could it be he exhibits signs of separation anxiety? Try recording his behavior on tape when you leave. Can he be stressed by something? Kind regards.
Anne Gillingham from Los Angeles, CA on September 24, 2014:
I have a dog marking problem. It has been with us ever since we found this dog abandoned in a parking lot. I don't want to toss him outside in the yard but at some point people have had enough. I have dedicated months of time, resources and patience to this one dog and he needs to figure it out. Coming home to a little jet of dog piss that I can't detect once dry causes me a lot of stress because it accumulates and makes the house smell gamey, and encourages similar behavior from our other dogs and our cats.
I commented on it here: https://hubpages.com/animals/How-to-Stop-Your-Dog-...
Anyway I am just chiming in to support you in your idea about "NO" on marking on walks. If the dog is not taught to control his impulse to lift his leg, at will, on walks, how can we expect him to respect our own homes or friend's houses, or fixtures in the car, etc. I have read behaviorists say to take the dog outside and let him mark something else if you catch him in the act but I frankly don't see it. He wants to mark his target, which is probably a corner of a kitchen cabinet, or the leg of a sofa. His target is not the rosebush that you have picked out for him so I don't think he'll get it.
Anyway thanks for another good dog article.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on September 28, 2012:
Marking is often not just to "claim territory" it is often seen when dogs are a bit stressed and are trying to make things "smell familiar again". Getting mad, may only make things worse. If you have had her just for a short period of time, as she gets used to this being her home, she should feel less likely to mark, but it is also true that marking can become a habit. Perhaps you can try to a pheromone collar or DAP diffuser to make her feel more at home, and you can keep her on an umbilical cord, leashed to you so you can watch her all day. In some cases, it can also be submissive or excitement urination, see if she pees in certain circumstances such as when you look at her directly or lean over her, here is a good read to see if that is the case: https://pethelpful.com/dogs/Submissive-urination-i...
Nicole on September 27, 2012:
We recently took in a 3 yr old foster dog that had been rescued. We assumed that she was mainly an outdoor dog due to her need to constantly be outside. She also pees in the house - sometimes right after being outside. I chalked it up to being used to go whenever she wanted outside but now I'm wondering if she is marking? We had a dog 2 years ago - would she still be able to smell her? We have tested for UTI- nothing found. If it is marking - how are we supposed to get her out of it? She will do it while we are standing right there - and it's typically only a dribble - not a full pee. We are trying to get her adopted into a forever home but I am concerned what will happen if she continues to do this.
Kristin Tamke from Frederick, MD on June 12, 2012:
Great hub!! voted up. Nice to see all the different catagories peeing can fall into.
Kathryn L Hill from LA on January 11, 2012:
Thanks for sharing your knowledge. And thanks for obtaining it.
TheEpicJourney from Fairfield, Ohio on January 09, 2012:
Great clarification on the dog behaviors here!! I've often wondered how to tell the difference and what the psychology is behind the different dog behaviors. Very informative hub, thanks!
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 08, 2012:
Millionaire tips, on walks, I allow them to mark only in ''designated areas''. They know the command go ''pee and go poop''. I do not allow them to mark on walks because I like to keep them off leash which is a privilege they have earned over time. If they would be allowed to mark on walks, this would make them wander, sniff the ground, and no longer pay attention to walking with us. We do walks in the city too at times, and some people do not appreciate having their sidewalks or car tires marked. I also compete with them and if they had a habit of marking while walking they would feel compelled to do it in the ring too! So to help them generalize I made a no-marking policy on structured walks.
Tammy from USA on January 07, 2012:
These are interesting things to know. My dog likes to mark my children's stuff when she is angry at them. She kept this up even after they moved into their own homes, and she goes for a visit. I guess she is letting them know she isn't happy they moved...LOL! Great hub! You have my vote!
Shasta Matova from USA on January 07, 2012:
My dog marks but only when outside. I let him mark when we go on walks. I'm curious why you don't.
Kristin Trapp from Illinois on January 07, 2012:
This is great information. My little beagle "marks" a lot on walks; up to six times. She also started doing the kicking thing after seeing another dog do it. Thanks for clarifying these dog behaviors.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on January 06, 2012:
Deborah,outside only is good and even normal. My male is neutered and marks outside and so does my spayed female, they tend to mark more when neighbor dogs come into the yard and mark as well. I do not allow marking on walks though..
Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on January 06, 2012:
It only happens outside.. I guess that's all right.. I have never thought much about it. I guess I thought it was normal
I voted up