Making A Mark

Your pet’s need to mark its territory by urinating around the house can become a problem. Here’s how to deal with this issue.

Buddy was a happy dog with a zest for life. A quick learner, the Boxer had toilet trained himself within a fortnight. So it came as a surprise to his owners when Buddy one day nonchalantly lifted a leg and anointed the dining room table. Puzzled with the change in behaviour, his owners consulted a canine behaviour counsellor who suggested that Buddy was territory marking. But why would Buddy mark their furniture? What was he trying to convey? Urine marking is a normal behaviour through which dogs communicate with each other by leaving behind an identifying scent. To resolve the problem, an owner needs to address the underlying reason for a dog’s need to mark his territory.

Territorial Behaviour
Dogs are territorial animals and in the natural state, live within well-delineated territories. Contrary to popular belief, a dog does not guard a particular area but guards resources, such as bed, toys, food, mates, etc., within the territory. The area is usually established through scent marking, which is spread all over the territory, not just at the extremities. When a dog is territory marking, it will usually lift a leg on vertical objects and will mark them with just a few drops of urine. The marking conveys vital information about the occupant such as sex, age, stage of reproductive cycle, state of health, etc. In highly sociable pack animals like dogs, it is usually the function of the leader or alpha dog to undertake defence of territory, which is why this behaviour is commonly associated with dominant, pushy, sexually intact male dogs. Dominant female dogs are also known to mark, often lifting a leg whilst doing so.

Setting It Right
Since this behaviour is seen predominantly in dominant dogs, the dog-owner relationship is evaluated. If the dog is found to be dictating terms within the house, it is advisable to put the dog through a behaviour programme that reduces his status within the pack and reinstates the owner as the leader. Also, an effective solution is to neuter the dog, which solves the problem in a majority of cases.
It is also necessary for the owner to clean soiled areas thoroughly with an enzymatic cleaner to completely get rid of the odour; otherwise the smell is an invitation to the dog to mark the same spot again. Ammonia based cleaners and Dettol will increase the smell of urine to the dog’s nose and should not be used. You can also place your dog’s food bowl in the area where he is marking. Most dogs will not mark a place where they eat.
In the case of females, spaying will not help the problem, but a behaviour programme designed to reduce the dog’s dominance will show good results.

Insecure Behaviour
Some dogs that mark are driven to do so because of stress or anxiety. A new pet, the arrival of a baby, a visiting houseguest, unstable pack hierarchy between two dogs in the house, or even a shift of address could cause the dog to feel threatened and consequently feel the need to mark its territory. When a dog marks out of stress or anxiety, it will leave behind large puddles, which will be focussed around areas where the dog is stressed, or will be on objects that stress the dog out, for example, a baby’s pram or the owner’s bed.

Setting It Right
When a dog is marking territory out of stress or insecurity, neutering will not be of any help. Instead, determining the source of stress and removing it will eliminate the marking behaviour.
In cases where the dog is anxious about other people or dogs visiting, a behaviour modification programme that involves acclimating and desensitising the dog to the offending parties can be instrumental in correcting the problem.
If your dog is marking because of a conflict with another dog in the house, sorting out the instability in the pack hierarchy, with the help of a behaviour counsellor will cease the marking.

If a dog is urine marking in retaliation to a new baby in the house it doesn’t necessarily mean he is jealous of the child. It’s just that the unfamiliar sights, sounds and items are unnerving him and urinating on them or around the house helps him deal with the stress. Including the dog in the baby’s routine and making sure the dog gets enough time and affection will help settle the dog down faster.
In most cases urine marking can be easily put right once the motive for the behaviour is established. However, if the above solutions are unsuccessful at stopping your dog’s marking behaviour, you may want to seek the aid of a canine behaviour counsellor.

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