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When Your Dog’s Urine Marking Is a Problem

By: Dr. Ilana Reisner

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Your reliably house-trained dog may one day surprise you by impassively lifting a leg and hallowing the furniture. Technically, he's not urinating, but rather urine marking - a distinct behavior by which dogs communicate with each other by leaving behind an identifying scent.

Urine marking is usually a behavior of territorial, sexually intact male dogs that characteristically lift their leg. It can also be a problem in neutered males or in females (who are most likely to urine-mark when they're in heat). Urine marking becomes a problem when it moves indoors - and dogs lift their legs on almost any vertical object in reach when they feel the urge, thus expressing their high social rank or territorial "ownership."

Not a House-Training Problem

Because urine marking isn't a house-training problem - these dogs aren't simply excreting their waste - it won't help to simply crate or confine your dog, to reward him for outdoor urination, or to punish the behavior (because punishment is difficult to apply each time). Treatment requires a program of prevention, environmental modification (such as limiting your dog's access to a frequently marked area of the house), and behavioral conditioning. Because dogs that urine mark are relatively dominant, at least in some situations, they must be convinced that their social life, and whatever territory they're claiming at the moment, is controlled entirely by their owners.

Dealing with Urine Marking

First, if your male dog hasn't been neutered, castration is strongly recommended. Research has shown that neutering alone will solve the problem in the majority of cases. Along with neutering, it's also helpful to control your dog's movements. Use a leash in the house as well as in others' homes, in commercial establishments, veterinary clinics and anywhere else he visits. Also, it's important to organize the dominance hierarchy within your home so that you're firmly in control. When dogs are required to sit or lie down in order to get what they want: petting, food, toys and even exercise, they quickly learn to defer to their owners in these many different circumstances. If you live with more than one dog, it may be important to look at the dogs' relationships with each other. For example, if the urine-marking dog is also the one who interferes when any attention is paid to the other dogs, it may help to have him sit and wait his turn before he is petted (in some cases, however, the opposite is true). If these efforts are unsuccessful at stopping your dog's marking behavior, talk with your veterinarian about the temporary use of medication to lessen your dog's edginess or anxiety. Or you may want to seek the aid of an animal behaviorist.

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