Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
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 and that it shall not be trespassed upon. Unfortunately, our pets are not toolmakers, so they must resort to other methods for marking their territory.
How Dogs Mark Their Territories
In the world of a wild dog pack, dogs must claim their property, such as their favorite feeding areas and their dens where they sleep. However, dogs cannot build fences and doors, so they must resort instead to another efficient, yet natural, way of claiming territory: urine marking.
Because dogs use their noses as their primary sense, urine marking is a quite effective way to claim territory without having to resort to a dispute or a confrontation. Dogs understand the meaning of urine marking and the consequences involved in trespassing specific marked areas.
Which Dogs Are Communicating and What Do They Say?
This is part of the dog's territorial nature, and it is something still instilled deep in the modern dog's genetic makeup. A few drops of urine can tell a lot of information to the dog retrieving it: the age and gender of the dog and even its social status.
In a domestic setting, dogs most likely to mark territory are mostly intact males and some un-spayed females. Un-neutered males and un-spayed females not only mark to claim territory and state hierarchy, but they also mark to advertise their sexual availability. Some dogs, however, may continue to mark even if they are spayed and neutered after a certain age.
Favorite marking areas are often vertical surfaces such as fire hydrants, tires, and trees. Backward scratching with the hind legs is a way to further emphasize the marking by adding visual cues to the area and further spreading the smell. A dog's paw pads also dispense scent through the act of scratching the dirt. Some dogs tend to mark territory as well by depositing their feces in certain areas.
How to Stop Dog Marking Behavior
Stopping marking behavior may be difficult. There are several strategies that may help, but they require lots of time and patience. Consistency is the key; all it takes for a dog to mark again is to do so without being corrected.
Stopping Dog Marking Behavior
- One good way to start is to remove the smell from marked surfaces. There are many products that will remove the urine smell, however, those with ammonia should be avoided since ammonia mimics the dog urine's smell and may actually encourage marking behaviors. Effective products that contain enzymes should remove all the odor.
- Using a black light will ensure that no spots are missed. This way all the odors will be neutralized.
- Neutering and spaying dogs may reduce marking behaviors up to 60%. However, in order to be effective such surgeries should be done before the dog engages in marking behavior. Changes in marking behavior are seen several weeks or months after surgery, once the production of reproductive hormones are extinguished.
- Some dogs mark territory when they feel stressed. If there has been a recent move, the addition of a baby to the family, or a new dog, the dog may feel compelled to mark as an attempt to feel more secure.
- A dog may start marking if other dogs start visiting his territory. In such case, the yard should be fenced off or dogs should not be allowed in the property.
- Limiting access to commonly marked objects and areas may be helpful.
- Dogs that tend to mark territory on walks should be discouraged to do so. What these dogs are trying to do is to expand their territory claiming bigger and bigger areas. Such behavior should be discouraged. Dogs tend to slow down to sniff and mark. Therefore, walking a dog at a swift pace may discourage this behavior.
Can Marking Be Related to Other Health Problems?
Something to keep into consideration: if a dog suddenly starts to urinate in places and this is a new behavior, there may be chances the dog may be suffering from a urinary tract infection (UTI). Affected dogs may exhibit as well the following accompanying symptoms:
How to Know if Your Dog Has a UTI
- Straining to Urinate
- Abnormal Urine Flow (a few drops at a time)
- Painful Urination
- Bloody Urine
- Licking Genitals
If you suspect a UTI, try to collect a fresh urine sample and have your dog seen by your vet at once. A course of antibiotics may solve the issue.
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.
Jolene on October 13, 2019:
I have a teddy bear. She is 6 months old and is getting fixed this Friday. Last Sunday my aunt brought over her 4month old dashound. My aunt's dog pooped twice and peeed once in the house. Our dog was house trained before this. Now she is pooping in the house.
Tina on October 25, 2016:
We just adopted a unspayed 6 yr old female dog. The previous owner used pee pads in the house. She pees in our house. She also territory marks outside. Could she be both urine marking in the house and territory marking outside. We are set to have her spayed soon. Will this help?
msuner on April 15, 2016:
Thank you for your prompt and informative response. All this is good to know. Apparently the same spot on the lawn has been used more than once, maybe by the same dog or others. I guess the next step is to find ways to make this "unhappen." I don't really relish the idea of our front yard being a public doggie toilet.
Adrienne Farricelli (author) on April 15, 2016:
Marking can be used to "claim territory" (the great Pyrenees is known for perimeter marking to warn other animals and deter them so to protect their flock of sheep, or as "pee mail" sort of like a bulletin board. Pee/poop is purposely left so other dogs can smell it and gain information about them, so yes, I would agree that it can attract other dogs to the area that are interested in inspecting the "pee mail" other dogs have left for them. Keep an eye open, if you see more dogs using your yard as your toilet, that's likely what's going on. We have a dog leave pee mail in our yard every now and then and I often see dogs pulling on the leash towards our yard to try to get to it. It's the power of pheromones! Here's an interesting read:
msuner on April 15, 2016:
We have an issue with people letting their dogs poop on our lawn. My wife and I think that this behavior will give other dogs incentive to use this territory as an OK poop zone making a public doggie toilet. Is there any truth to this way of thinking or is a particular dog marking it's turf for his/her return and repeat behavior?
adog on June 12, 2010:
Nice article. Came across yours because my spayed dog frequently poops while on her walks, as if to mark her territory. She just does it until she runs out. She does need a lot of training.