Why Do Some Dogs Pee on Guests?
While you greet your guests with a warm "hello" and a vigorous handshake, Rover, your unscrupulous dog, may decide to sniff their shoes and hike his leg, peeing on your guests as if it was the most natural behavior in the world. What gives? Of course, nobody enjoys this form of "greeting" and it's definitively something that cannot be ignored; indeed, that warm pee quickly seeps in those shoes and pant legs!
If you're wondering what floats Rover's boat, you'll have to put on your critical hat on and immerse yourself in some canine psychology. Truth is, marking is quite a natural behavior in dogs. Unlike real urinating, marking is different in many ways. A big plus is the fact that a dog who marks will use a significantly lower volume of urine, versus liberally emptying the bladder. This means your guests can count their blessings, as they will likely receive just a trickle of warm pee versus a whole puddle. To learn more about this read "How to Tell if as Dog is Marking or Urinating."
A disadvantage though is the fact that a guest's legs are vertical, which makes them particularly appealing to dogs who love to urine mark. Indeed, dogs who mark love, love, love vertical surfaces! This is because this puts the area marked at the level of another dog's nose. "Pee mail" this way can be easily and effectively read by other dogs. The legs of a person offer the perfect vertical surface which makes them an appealing "pee post" substitute.
*Note: It's a common myth that only intact males will urine mark; indeed, many neutered and spay dogs enjoy marking as well! This shows that urine marking isn't a behavior exclusively triggered by hormones. There are many other non-hormonal explanations. In the next paragraphs we will take a look at a few.
Why Does my Dog Love Peeing on Guests?
First and foremost, an important clarification. Is your dog peeing when guests come over, or is your dog actually marking on your guests by deliberately lifting his leg? These are totally different circumstances. If your dog is peeing when guests come over (not by lifting the leg) and this happens when your dog greets them, most likely you are dealing with a case of submissive or excitement urination. In this case, your dog is not liberally hiking his leg on your guests, but most likely he is greeting your guests, rolling over his back and then peeing (which depending on when your guests are, they may be getting sprayed by an unexpected urine jet) or he is simply keeping his head low, ears back and tail wagging while peeing on the floor as he greets. If this sounds like the case, then please read my article on how to deal with submissive and excitement urination; however, come back to this page as the treatment is almost the same.
So your dog sees your guests, goes over to sniff them and then out of nowhere, he unexpectedly lifts his leg to dribble some urine. What causes this behavior? Following are some possible explanations:
- Your dog may be aroused in certain social situations. At times, when dogs are excited, they don't know how to deal and manage the overload of emotions that floods them. They therefore may "redirect" by engaging in another activity that may appear almost out of context. You may therefore see some dogs urine mark or even hump people's legs.
- Your dog is anxious. At times, some dogs are uncomfortable when other people come into their territory. They therefore urine mark unknown people or other items with their scent (such as their luggage or the sheets slept on) in hopes of covering their foreign smell with a more "normal", familiar scent.
- Your guests may be bringing on them a scent of another dog and your dog instinctively wants to cover that scent.
How to Deal with Dogs Who Urine Mark Guests
Regardless of the cause of your dog's marking behaviors, (at times, it's just wasted time trying to figure out why dogs engage in certain ways--as we may never know for sure) you may be interested in how to reduce this behavior. There are several strategies:
1) To distract him from engaging in this habit, it helps to provide your dog with an alternate, incompatible behavior. In this case, let's try having your guests toss a rain fall of small bite-sized treats right when he comes over by them. After he eats them, try letting them toss a few more around and then see how it goes. Remember: the more a dog rehearses an unwanted behavior (like urine marking) the more it puts roots and becomes harder to eradicate. This way, rep after rep, your dog will learn a new pattern --looking for treats instead of marking. You can also put the behavior of looking for treats on cue, by saying something like "go hunting!" right before the rainfall of treats falls to the floor. After all, your dog cannot eat treats while he is actively urine marking! This strategy in dog training lingo is known as "differential reinforcement of incompatible behavior".
2) Practice the looking for treats behavior with several different guests. If feasible, have volunteers, come by to help you out. If you are unsure on how he will react, put him on leash, so if he doesn't pay attention to the treats, you can cue him and guide him towards the treats while removing his attention from the guest.
3) Should your dog not take treats, it's often a sign that he is over threshold. When a dog is too concerned about something, his digestive system may shut down. You will need to work more gradually using desensitization.
If your dog appears anxious about having guests over, you can invest in some calming aids such as DAP diffusers. These are pheromone-based plug-ins that may help dogs relax. Main pet stores carry them also in collar and spray forms.
By tossing treats you offer a win-win situations. You will indeed get 2 pigeons with one stone. Indeed, by giving treats you will:
1) provide an alternate behavior to urine marking
2) change your dog's emotional response towards guests if he's slightly anxious about them. This is a process known as "counterconditioning"
3) set your dog for success. Scolding, reprimanding a dog for urine marking often makes the behavior worse.
As seen, with a simple handful of small treats, you can help your dog overcome this behavior, and change his emotions while preventing your guests from getting their shoes and pant legs showered by your dog's pee! Also, as seen, the use of food in dog behavior modification can accomplish many powerful results!
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Questions & Answers
My nine-year-old Chihuahua just peed on my friend's lap. My dog never did this before, and she knows my friend really well, so why would she do that?
That is quite unusual, especially since she knows your friend. At this age, it could be stemming from a medical condition (urinary tract infection, the presence of crystals/stones, loss of sphincter control due to aging, etc.). Or maybe she just has been keeping it for long, and she just relaxed a little too much. Perhaps your friend has a new smell, and she was marking.