The truth about canine urine marking

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Have you ever wondered why dogs urine mark? Marking is most common in intact males and is characterized by urinating a small amount on upright (vertical) surfaces.The first step is to visit your veterinarian to rule out medical causes such as a urinary tract infection.  Urine marking is similar to other behavior problems in that the underlying motivation for the dog performing the behavior must be determined in order to solve the problem. Castration (aka neutering) decreases marking in 70-80% of male dogs, regardless of the age of castration.

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Once hormonal causes are eliminated by castration, remaining causes include anxiety and territoriality. The first important step is to prevent situations that elicit marking. For example, a territorial pet can be prevented from watching dogs and people pass the home through windows by covering the windows (http://www.wallpaperforwindows.com/pc/home.asp). Also, dogs tend to mark new objects in the house, so these objects should be kept out of the dogs’ reach. For example, avoid leaving a grocery bag or back pack on the ground when walking in the door with hands full. Instead keep these items out of reach of the dog. If the dog marks only when home alone or nobody is looking video tape can help determine what his triggers for marking may be and to make sure he is truly the culprit in the case of a multiple dog household. Urine marking is a normal behavior, so avoid punishing the dog if “caught in the act”. Punishment can also make his anxiety worse. Instead, if the dog is caught marking he can be interrupted by calling him away from the area and taken outside immediately, so that he can urinate in an appropriate place. Make sure to clean with a combination enzymatic/bacterial cleaner to degrade the urine rather than simply covering up the smell (my favorite is Anti-Icky-Poo, http://www.antiickypoo.com/). Once the triggers for marking are avoided other behavioral techniques such as desensitization and counter-conditioning are tailored specifically for the dog in order to help change his emotional response to these triggers. Sometimes anti-anxiety medications and supplements may also be used in conjunction with behavior modification. For more information visit your veterinarian or a veterinary behaviorist (dacvb.org).

 

Dr. Meredith Stepita, DVM, DACVB (Veterinary Behaviorist)

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