How to Tell If a Dog Is Marking or Urinating
Understanding the Urinating/Marking Behavior in Dogs
''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 peeing 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
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.
As seen, urinating and marking are two different entities. As so, they both require different approaches.
Does your dog tend to urine mark?
- 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
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?
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.Helpful 3
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?
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 Janet Farricelli