Marking is when an animal urinates or defecates in order to leave his ‘signature’ in a specific place. It’s a sort of post-it note letting other animals know that, “I was here,” and/or, “This is mine!”
Due to the many factors that can contribute to marking behaviour in our pet dogs, it is not an uncommon problem for dog owners
First and foremost, what constitutes marking behaviour?
Barring any health issue, like incontinence, dogs will soil (we’ll be focusing on urination, but the same applies to defecation) for two reasons:
1. They have to go. The dog’s bladder is full and he has no choice but to relieve himself. How long a dog will ‘hold it’ depends on several factors, such as health, age and level of potty-training.
2. They feel the need to mark. Hormones are usually responsible for this behaviour, but scent plays a role, as well as repetition (ie: the more he marks, the harder it will be to stop).
Stress can also contribute to marking behaviour. Moving into a new environment or introducing a new member to the household, canine or otherwise, can trigger inappropriate marking, even in an older dog that had never previously exhibited it.
Although more prevalent in males, females mark as well.
In this post, we will be focusing on marking behaviour, not incomplete or absent potty-training.
Too much freedom too soon
Typically, dogs learn pretty early on not to soil in front of you, because they will be interrupted and/or reprimanded. This means that Pooch will mark while you aren’t looking. They get so proficient at this, that they can successfully mark while you’re still in the room. Does this sound familiar? Yeah, you’re far from alone! Making your dog ‘earn’ more freedom around the house works well for resolving many behaviours, such as destroying and stealing, but it is extremely useful for housebreaking issues (marking or not).
The rule is simple: if your dog cannot be trusted to be unsupervised, he will not be. This means that Fido is only out of his crate, kennel or pen when you can watch him.
Some dogs are urinating ninjas, if this sounds like your pup, you’ll need to watch him like a hawk; most dogs will just need to be in the same room as you, with no obstacles to hide behind. As he gets better at keeping his living area clean, he can be trusted to roam larger portions of the house. Needless to say, if he soils on furniture, he is not to be allowed on it!
If you catch Rover about to mark (before squatting or cocking his leg, a dog will likely sniff where they intend to mark, so if you see him sniffing, watch to see if he intends to mark. If he squats or cocks his leg, make a loud noise (shaking a can of pennies, clapping, shouting…) or even throw something near your dog, like a ball or pillow. Don’t hit him or throw something at him, the point is to simply startle him out of the behaviour. At this point, take Fido outside immediately. Accompany him to relieve himself, reward when he does. If he doesn’t want to ‘go’, take him back inside and try again about half an hour later.
Since the scent of urine and feces stimulate the animal to soil, it is imperative that there be absolutely no trace it in the house. Many household cleaners have substances that may mask odours as far as insensitive human noses are concerned, but they aren’t fooling your dog! Ammonia is the most common ingredient that only serves to intensify the odour. Vinegar and bleach are good cleaners. a 50/50 vinegar and water solution or a 10% bleach and water solution are both effective cleaners. There are many cleaners available on the market, specifically designed to remove any trace of urine or feces. The more porous the surface, the harder it will be to clean. Steam-clean any soft surfaces, such as carpets.
Punishment, physical or verbal, will only serve to make your dog hesitant to eliminate in front of you. What you can do is take a newspaper, roll it up and smack yourself with it for not taking your dog out sooner! No matter how frustrated you are, don’t yell at or hit your dog, and for the love of Dog, don’t rub his nose in it! These rules apply whether you just found the little present Pooch left on the rug or you caught him leaving it.
While the techniques may seem simple enough, it is a very time-consuming process, with many different variables, so don’t be discouraged if training isn’t going as quickly as you thought it might! Especially when stress is involved, there may be good periods with phases where the dog is reverting back to marking.
If the dog is young enough, neutering/spaying may help, but keep in mind that it takes some time before the hormonal levels lower, so continue to supervise your dog, and only allow them more freedom when they earn it.
Good luck, and happy training!
Make sure to check out reviews, like Yelp!, before hiring a dog trainer. When it comes to behavioural issues, there is a lot of room for error, especially with compulsion-based training.