Urine marking is a natural, instinctive behaviour in dogs, but it becomes inappropriate when dogs urinate in the house.
Urine marking is most common with sexually intact male dogs, but intact female dogs and neutered dogs may also mark.
Underlying medical reasons for inappropriate urination, such as urinary tract infections, should be ruled out before a diagnosis of marking behaviour is made.
In one study, neutering was found to resolve the problem of urine marking in about half of cases. Urine marking issues can be more difficult to resolve in dogs that are not neutered.
Behaviour modification, environmental treatment, and elimination of anxiety triggers can help to eliminate the behaviour. To remove urine odour completely, odour eliminators with enzymes or bacteria must be used to clean up urine marks.
What Is Canine Urine Marking?
Canine urine marking is a natural, instinctive behaviour in dogs, but it is not appropriate inside the house. Dogs, especially sexually intact male dogs, urinate on objects to leave a message for other dogs (e.g., claiming their territory). Urine marking behaviour usually begins when the dog reaches sexual maturity.
What Causes Canine Urine Marking?
An intact male dog is most likely to mark when there is a female dog in heat nearby. Intact female dogs are also prone to mark when they are in heat. New items are frequent targets for urine marks. However, because urine marking is a form of communication, any dog may mark if another dog has urinated anywhere in the house. Unless the scent of the urine is completely removed, the marking behaviour is likely to continue. Use odour eliminators with enzymes or bacteria in them to completely remove the odour.
Any anxiety-producing situation can trigger urine marking as well. Workmen in the house, the arrival of a new baby, or visiting relatives can all produce anxiety in a dog. Even the addition of a new TV or a new computer may threaten a dog so that it feels compelled to mark the packing boxes. Rest assured; your dog is not trying to get back at you. It’s just doing what comes naturally.
How Is Canine Urine Marking Diagnosed?
Your vet will start by discussing when, where, and how often the behaviour occurs. A workup should be conducted to rule out medical disorders that may be causing the problem. If there are no medical causes, your vet will need to determine if incomplete housetraining or other behavioural conditions are playing a role. Even if there is a medical component to the behaviour, there will be a learned aspect as well. This learning may need to be modified once the medical condition is resolved. If there is no underlying medical cause, you may be referred to Qualified Canine Behaviourist.
How Can It Be Treated?
In most cases, overcoming urine marking requires multiple steps:
Neutering - If the dog is sexually intact, neutering is the first step to remove any hormonal influence for the urine marking behaviour. Once the surgery is performed, behaviour modification can begin to reinforce urine marking in acceptable locations.
Scent elimination - It is important to remove the scent of previous urine marks with a good enzymatic or bacterial cleaner. Camouflaging the odour with another scent is not effective. An enzymatic cleaner can help neutralize the scent to prevent recurrences of the behaviour. Many dogs won’t urinate where they eat, so you can also try feeding your dog in the location it used to mark.
Positive reinforcement - Never punish a dog for urine marking. Punishment can create more anxiety, which may only exacerbate the problem. Instead, you need to supervise your pet closely. If you see the dog starting to urinate inside, interrupt him or her by asking for a competing behaviour like come or sit, then take him/her outside. When the dog urinates outside, reward with praise and treats. Make sure to let your dog outside frequently, always providing rewards for appropriate urination outdoors.
Confinement -During retraining, it helps to limit your dog’s access to frequently marked areas. You may need to confine your dog to a room or small area by shutting doors or by using baby gates or a crate. You can also use a technique called the “umbilical cord,” in which you use your dog’s leash to keep your dog close to you while inside so that you can better monitor his or her behaviour. As your dog’s behaviour improves, you can gradually increase his or her freedom in the house. Be sure to frequently exercise your dog to keep him or her from becoming agitated with long periods of confinement.
Minimize anxieties - If you can identify the factors that are causing your dog anxiety, remove them or minimize their importance. With a new baby, for example, you can desensitize your dog by gradually increasing the amount of time your dog is exposed to the new baby. At the same time, you can use tactics known as counterconditioning techniques. These include classical counterconditioning, such as associating the baby with items your dog wants, like food, petting, and praise, and operant counterconditioning, which involves reinforcing calm behaviours such as “sit” and “down” to replace excited behaviours like jumping up and mouthing when near the baby. You may also want to invest in a synthetic calming pheromone diffuser, such as Adaptil (dog appeasing pheromone) - by mimicking the pheromones produced by a mother dog to give her puppies a sense of calm and well-being, this product can help ease anxieties in dogs.
Medications - If your dog has an extremely high level of anxiety, you can consult your Veterinary Surgeon for medications. There are many types of appropriate medications to address anxiety in dogs. These drugs may take 4 to 6 weeks to make a difference. However, medications should not be considered lightly - behaviour modification is always the first choice and should continue, even with medications
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