How to Tell if a Dog is Marking or Urinating

Updated on February 18, 2016
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a former veterinary hospital assistant, certified dog trainer, behavior consultant, and author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Females are also prone to urine marking


Understanding the Urinating/Marking Behavior

''My dog urinates in the home''. This is a common complaint I hear from dog owners. The complaint often denotes a sense of urgency, indicating they have high hopes for me to turn into a dog detective and determine how to help them shut off the ''doggy sprinkler system''. Truth is; it is not that easy of a task. There are many causes for house soiling and often, you really need to see the behavior to get some extra hints.

If it is 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 Potty''

If the dog is an adult, at times, I notice owners have a hard time recognizing territorial marking from urine marking. The two are 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 empty the bladder but it is done by the dog with a specific purpose in mind. 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 . All cases of inappropriate urination, especially when involving house trained dogs, should be brought to a vet's attention to rule out a medical problem.

Car wheels are a favorite marking surface

Wheels carry many smells and are therefore, a favorite marking spot for dogs.
Wheels carry many smells and are therefore, a favorite marking spot for dogs. | Source

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, lets 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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!'' These type of ''urine marking'' are accompanied by submissive body postures 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 that 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.

As seen, urinating and marking are two whole different entities. As so, they both require different approaches. Stay tuned, in my next hub, we will see how to address urine marking and reduce its frequency.

Alexadry, All Rights Reserved. Copying any my articles in part or in full may lead to reporting to the DMCA.

Does your dog tend to urine mark?

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    • profile image

      Seb 2 months ago

      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.

    • profile image

      Melynda 3 months ago

      Where can I find the color difference in urine and marking pee

    • profile image

      DT 10 months ago

      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 dog probably has been marking for months & I don't know it.

    • profile image

      Carol 10 months ago

      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!!

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      tarajo 21 months ago

      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!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      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.

    • poweranni profile image

      Anne Gillingham 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      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.

    • midget38 profile image

      Michelle Liew 3 years ago from Singapore

      Ah, so I know Cloudy is leaving Pee Mail around. Trying to catch male attention!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 3 years ago from USA

      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.

    • poweranni profile image

      Anne Gillingham 3 years ago from Los Angeles, CA

      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:

      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.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      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:

    • profile image

      Nicole 5 years ago

      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.

    • Clucy profile image

      Kristin Tamke 5 years ago from Frederick, MD

      Great hub!! voted up. Nice to see all the different catagories peeing can fall into.

    • Kathryn L Hill profile image

      Kathryn L Hill 5 years ago from LA

      Thanks for sharing your knowledge. And thanks for obtaining it.

    • TheEpicJourney profile image

      TheEpicJourney 5 years ago from Fairfield, Ohio

      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!

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      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.

    • tlpoague profile image

      Tammy 5 years ago from USA

      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!

    • Millionaire Tips profile image

      Shasta Matova 5 years ago from USA

      My dog marks but only when outside. I let him mark when we go on walks. I'm curious why you don't.

    • ktrapp profile image

      Kristin Trapp 5 years ago from Illinois

      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.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 5 years ago from USA

      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 profile image

      Deborah Brooks Langford 5 years ago from Brownsville,TX

      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


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