Urine Marking Indoors

I recently had an owner contact me about wanting to place her male Bouvier who had been urine "marking" indoors for several years. I advised her to begin an anti-marking program while I tried to refer adopters to contact her.. No one really is eager to adopt a dog who urinates indoors.
This is partly (largely) a problem of incomplete house-breaking. Intact male dogs are at higher risk for this behavior, but it also occurs in neutered males (this one is neutered). I haven't yet encountered it in a bitch, but sooner or later it's possible..
Read all the house-breaking articles in conjunction with this one. I am not going to repeat all the basics here.

Urine Marking Indoors

by Pam Green, © 2015

what is "marking" ?

"Marking" also called "Leg Lifting" is when a dog urinates a small amount, usually on a vertical surface, to leave a sign or message to other dog. This is urination for communication, not urination to empty the bladder.

"We have e-mail ; dogs have pee-mail."

Marking is a normal dog behavior. Typically male dogs do lift a rear leg and mark on a vertical surface, such as a tree or the iconic fire hydrant.. Some bitches also will lift a rear leg or hike up their whole rear end to mark a vertical surface. (I used to think only dominant bitches did this, but I was wrong.) However some bitches will squat to mark, and will get into contests with another bitch to see who "has the last word". Male dogs likewise can get into contests to see who gets to "over-mark" the other and thus "have the last word".

Male dogs also usually will raise a rear leg to urinate to empty the bladder, though a male will usually keep a bit of urine in reserve for later marking. Young male puppies usually squat to urinate until they start to hit puberty and begin to lift a leg. Elderly male dogs, due to arthritis and /or muscle weakness , may squat to urinate or may urinate standing up and just slightly lowering their rear or slightly spreading their rear legs, much the position in which male horses (geldings and stallions) urinate. So posture isn't always determinative of intention. Usually the "marking" dog emits only a small amount and appears to be very comfortable doing so. A dog with a bladder infection will also urinate smaller amounts but will do so repeatedly and will appear uncomfortable.

Usually a dog considering making a "mark" will first sniff the target area, usually a vertical surface. Usually he wants to mark because others have previously done so and he is reading their marks before making his own. But many dogs do a lot of ground sniffing when they are seeking just that perfect spot to pee or poop. The about to mark male is also intending to lift a rear leg, and in a short haired dog an observant person could see the start of muscle movement, see the foot starting to leave the ground..

There's a great Gary Larson cartoon in which the male dog has a garden hose in his mouth and his bitch-wife is standing with front paws on hips and scolding "I know what you are planning".

Gary Larson cartoon

Most people who have lived with dogs or spent a lot of time around dogs have no trouble distinguishing "marking" from urinating to empty the bladder. As the Supreme Court Justice (Potter Stewart) said about obscenity, "I know it when I see it."

Marking in male dogs is a very hormone fueled behavior. Dogs who were neutered at or before puberty rarely develop it . Dogs who have started doing it but are not deeply into it as a habit are likely to greatly reduce or stop it after being neutered (not instantly but as the hormonal influence fades away). Dr Benjamin Hart, DVM published a study many years ago showing that urine marking is very often greatly reduced or stopped by neutering (and the same study showed that roaming behavior and male-male fighting are also reduced by neutering.) If your male dog is a companion dog, not intended for breeding and / or not excellent in some important quality that is needed in the breed, he should have been neutered anyway. If the owner is a serious dog breeder , she should have known how to deal with marking immediately when it first appeared and not let it become a habit.

In female dogs, I am less sure of hormonal relevance, though it makes sense that a bitch will leave urine messages frequently when she is in heat or approaching heat. Again, a companion bitch would usually have been spayed. I used to think it was only really dominant bitches who marked, but my very timid and submissive Velvet does it and hikes her leg to do so, outdoors only of course.

Marking outdoors

at home

Marking outdoors is rarely considered to be a "problem". The dog has to urinate somewhere and outdoors is where we humans want the dog to do it. Hallejulia, amen ! Be sure to let your dog know that you love his peeing and pooping outdoors . Act like it's liquid gold or solid gold (but don't take it to the bank or grocery store.) Hallejulia, amen !

It can be considered a problem for the humans when a dog urinates on highly valued plants in sufficient quantity to damage or kill them.. Most plants can tolorate some urine, as otherwise they couldn't survive in the wild where wild animals urinate on them. If you truely have some plants that can't thrive when urinated upon, I suggest you either fence them off from that part of your yard where the dogs have access or else put those plants in containers that are either up on racks or plant stands or else in hanging baskets well out of dogs' reach. Likewise you would want to prevent dogs from peeing on vegetables, fruits, and herbs you planned to harvest and eat. Many dogs really love fruits and veggies and will gladly devour them if given access to that part of your garden, leaving you little to harvest for yourself, and you might not want to eat something a dog has peed on anyway. (You'd also be keeping any toxic plants safely out of dogs's possible contact, though peeing wouldn't be the reason for that.) .

If the dog is peeing on the exterior of your house, you could cover that area with metal or plastic paneling or plant bushes in front of the area. Or some fencing to keep the dog at a bit of distance. Or just accept this as a small price to pay for having a dog.

See also my ideas below on encouraging your dog to do his marking on one or more "pee posts" that you erect in your yard and encourage him to use.

on walks

It can also be annoying on walks if a dog stops to annoint every tree, lamp-post, or other upright he passes. Like golf, it's "a good walk spoiled" by interruptions This really becomes a "whose walk is this " issue. I've fostered a dog or two who wanted to do this. I generally allow the dog to urinate near the beginning of a walk and then every 15 or 20 minutes. The dog is walked on a head halter , so if he wants to stop repeatedly, I just keep going and he keeps up with me in order to keep up with his own head. Note that I'd want to be sure this is NOT a case of bladder infection.. Also some illnesses and some drugs (especially steroids) do cause a dog to drink more and therefore to pee more in frequency and quantity. In those cases of course the dog must be allowed to do so and must receive any veterinary care that is needed. .

If your dog walk is in an area where a reliable and responsive dog can safely be off leash, then frequency of urination isn't a problem for the human's walking pace. Again, one wants to be aware of medical issues. I try to notice any changes in a dog's normal pattern of urination or defecation, changes in breathing, changes in energy and exhuberance, any changes in behavior on walks or at home.

Marking indoors

Ah, now we come to the kind of marking that almost everyone would consider to be an unacceptable problem . We don't want a dog urrinating to empty indoors and we don't want a dog urinating to mark indoors.. Indeed, urine aimed at a non-waterproof verrtical target is often more objectionable than urine landing on a waterproof floor.

Admit that your dog is NOT house-broken

It is essential to recognize that a dog who marks indoors is NOT REALLY HOUSE-BROKEN, therefore you MUST put him back into a STRICT HOUSE-BREAKING REGIME.

First of all, be smart and remove your valued objects from those rooms the dog is given access to, especially unsupervised access. Likewise remove objects that could become dangerous when wet. (A Christmas tree with electric light strings might give a shock if peed upon ?) This may mean using closed doors or stretch gates to exclued the dog from portions of your house. Perhaps he is excluded from unsupervised access to all but just one room. Open floor plan homes are difficult in this regard, but you can use several stretch gates in series to span longer gaps or use one or more X-pens used linearly or in slight zig-zag. And a bathroom is surely available and surely has a door that can be closed. Or the dog can be crated or in an X-pen for those times when no one is avialable to supervise. Lay a sheet of "no wax" flooring underneath and extending several inches beyond the footprint of the X-pen or wire crate if the floor is not urine-proof. See also my article on No One Home Housebreaking (link at end of this article) if you have times when you really must leave the house for more than 4 or 5 hours at a stretch without some other reliable person being home or coming in to take the dog for a potty break.

Next you MUST abide by the rules of strict house-breaking. The dog is NEVER roaming unsupervised indoors. NEVER !!!!. Some of the time the dog is crated or in an X-pen. That's when no one is able to supervise, as is surely the case when you are sleeping. But when a responsible person is available to supervise, the dog is on an umbilical cord" , ie leashed to that person's body, often a cord tied to the person's belt. (Now if the person is someone very unsteady on their feet, the umbilical tied fast could pose danger of an impulsive or untrained dog jerking that person off their feet. Simply passing the leash under the belt so a jerk or pull would simply slide it loose might be feasible. Also it's time to get dead serious about leash training this dog !) With the dog on the umbilical, you should be aware enough to notice if he acts like he might be needing to go outside for a potty break or thinking about lifting a leg to "mark" . If you see the male dog sniff a vertical object or if you see a muscle movement in rear leg or see his toes about to leave the ground, immediately interupt him with a loud sharp explosive "Aach !" type of sound and maybe a quick leash jerk and whisk him outdoors. When the dog is outdoors, of course the dog can be off leash and should be praised for urinating, whether on the ground or on a vertical surface.

Note : a dog doing a leg lift will lift the leg outwards (away from his body) as well as upwards and these movements will be fairly large before he actually starts to urinate. . So it's a different movement from a dog who is stmply taking the first step of walking, where the leg moves upwards a little and then foreward. Start observing your dog outdoors so you can see the difference. Also you can go to the dog park and watch a lot of dogs, so your eye really gets trained. (It's always a little difficult to try to describe verbally actions that one can readily see ; the description in words comes from the left side of the brain while it's the right side that sees and interprets the whole picture of behavior.)

Go read and re-read the house-breaking articles at the end of this article.

However many months the dog has been peeing (or pooping) indoors , figure that you will be doing strict housebreaking regime for one week for every month . And accept that you should have started sooner, like started the very first time you noticed the marking occur. Sometimes if you catch that very first instance, a sharp interruption or correction and immediately whisking the dog outdoors will clear up the issue , but follow that with several weeks of vigilance and "remedial housebreaking" regime. You want to catch each of the first several times he trys, so that the habit never gets established.

(Note : while normally strong "corrections" , as distinguished from interrupting an "accident" about to happen and re-directing the dog to do it outdoors and get praised outdoors, have little place in ordinary house-breaking, in the case of marking by an otherwise housebroken dog I do believe that a strong correction or snarled interruption can be appropriate for an attempt to mark indoors. More appropriate for a self-confident dog than for a timid one. and more appropriate when you are already firmly established as the Leader of the pack. I don't mean a cruel correction, but a dramatic one which makes an impression because it is dramatic and rare (likely a unique event).

Erect one or more "pee posts" and encourage dog to use them

You can do this step at the same time you begin your strirct housebreaking regime Indeed if you are raising a male puppy or are adopting a more mature male dog, erect some "pee posts" before that dog moves in or soon after.

A natural "pee post" is simply any kind of vertical bush or tree that is located in a part of your yard where you would be happy to have your dog urinate. Maybe your yard already has several natural bushes or trees that would serve this purpose, and if so merely encourage your dog to use them by praising him when you see him do so.. But you can create one or more "pee posts" simply by buying a wooden dowel ( at least 1 "diameter,2" to 3" might be ideal) and sharpening one end, then driving it into the ground several inches so it is well anchored. Because dogs tend to want to mark around the boundaries of home territory, I'd suggest putting posts near the corners of your yard. I suggest wood because it holds scent well and is readily available and easy to work with. It won't last forever, but it can be replaced when nescessary. Of course if you can get a natural lopped off tree limb, you can trim it up a bit and plant it as a post. If your yard is all cement or brickwork, ie you cannot drive a post into the ground, then either mount your post onto a large plywood base or get an Xmas tree holder as your base. (And if it's Xmas season, grab a discarded Xmas tree to become your post) You can make the post more of a marking target if you annoint it with dog urine. Either capture some of your own dog's urine or ask a friend to capture some from their own dog or visit the dog park with some containers. Male dog urine is probably the most provocative to another male (I have no idea if human urine would work or not, but that would be an interesting experiiment : annoint one post with dog urine and antother with human urine, set up a security camera to observe results for you.)

Take your male dog out to the yard to any of the posts at a time when he is likely to need to urinate and when he squirts the post (or ground near it) praise him lavishly and give him several small treats.

By the way , one of my adopters is a retired fireman and he has an actual cast off fire hydrant in his yard. Some pet supply catalogs have plastic fire hydrant shaped objects which might appeal to your sense of humor.

For more detail on this see How to create a "pee post", with illustration of a fire hydrant fountain.

the "secret weapon" : the "belly band"

If you do your housebreaking regime faithfully and fully, you probably won't need this "secret weapon" , but you may want to start using it before you begin the transition phase in which the dog begins to have less closely supervised and non-leashed indoor freedom in limited areas. It's used to make sure that if he does start to pee, he gets an immediate result that is unpleasant for him. (I also advised it in my case study dog because his owner said she could not use the umbilical because she is very unsteady on her feet, relies on a walker, etc.)

Now the "secret weapon" for dogs who were previously housebroken but are choosing to mark indoors. Again, first discuss this with your vet and have her do a completer rule-out of all medical causes. The "secret weapon" is NOT a substitute for the hard work of going on a strict housebreaking regime. It is in addition to doing that.

The "secret weapon" that makes a male dog unwilling to pee indoors is a "belly band" also called "male dog diaper". This wraps around the male's belly, actually covering his urine emitting anatomy. The outer layer should be waterproof and the inner layer water-holding . The band can fasten with velcro as being the easiest way to put it on and off quickly. If the dog would remove it with his mouth , then he has to wear the same "cone" ("Elizabethan collar") that you'd use to prevent him from licking or chewing an injury site or surgery site. Now you have a choice whether or not to put a "panty liner" inside to absorb urine. For a dog who needs a diaper because he is incontinent , ie leaks urine without choosing to do so, I would certainly use a liner to protect him from discomfort And change it often enough. But for a dog who is marking indoors , in my opinion the discomfort of having his urine in contact with his body is a good motivation for him to refrain from trying to mark indoors. Now , just in case it is not brain dead obvious : the dog wears the belly band ONLY when he is indoors and he wears it ALL the time he is indoors, but it is removed the moment you take him outdoors and replaced on him just as you are about to let him back indoors. This means you escort him in and out. So you have to be present. .

The female equivalent would be "bitches britches", ie pants, usually sold to hold a panty liner for a bitch who is in heat so as to catch and contain her discharges. (Note : this is NOT a chastity belt : it won't protect her from getting bred and impregnated if any intact male dog reaches her.). These are also used with panty liner for a bitch who is incontinent for reasons other than what is usually called "spayed bitch incontinence" which usually is treated very successfully with a drug therapy. I have yet to encounter a bitch who uring marks indoors. I have fostered a few bitches who were not housebroken and who needed a period of ordinary housebreaking. They did not need "britches", just ordinary housebreaking regime.

Please do NOT attempt to use a belly band or bitches britches as a substitute for normal housebreaking. It is NOT a substitute and proper use requires just as much supervision indoors and outdoors as does the standard housebreaking regime. What the belly band is good for is that it can help with that transition phase where you begin to allow the dog some space-limitted off-leash freedom in selected parts of your indoors.. At that point you might very well bring back those objects the dog previously marked on. If he tries to mark wearing the belly band , the band provides the "correction" of the unpleasantness of having to wear his own urine for a while . This "correction" follows instantly upon his action of trying to mark ; it is associated with his own behavior and totally independant of you, your presence or absence, your actions or inactions. It is not frightening to the dog, not painful, not cruel. If this has the desired effect of discouraging marking, you should see him start to inhibit himself from trying to mark indoors. Make damn sure to give him plenty of outdoor potty excursions in which he is able to pee as much as he wants to without the belly band and , ideally, with you praising him very lavishly for doing this.

Note : since the belly band must be removed when the dog goes outdoors and replaced when he returns indoors, this implies that you have to escort him out and in, at least that you are opening the door for him to go out and in. Even if you have a dog door, since the dog is on the umbilical cord, you are going to be escorting him to the door. Probably it makes sense to disable the dog door for this period, unless you have other dogs using it. Actually I would be surprised if a dog who is accustomed to using a dog door ever developed the habit of indoor marking.

case study interim results

My advisee, an older woman who is unable to use the "umbilical" method because she would risk a nasty fall if the dog pulled, initially reported that her dog would not allow her to put the belly band on him. I told her to snap his leash on so he couldn't simply walk away, then fasten the band on him. That worked . Since then she has reported that there have been no further indoor incidents.(maybe just one, probably when she neglected to put the band back on). The longer term results remain to be seen. After she has gotten the dog reliably "house-clean", then it will be time to re-visit the question of whether she still wants to place him with an adopter. She will still have the problem that she personally is not able to provide the dog with a lot of exercise. Also this is a "special needs" dog in that he was born deaf and remains deaf and somewhat timid. The deafness also makes the use of interrupting behavior with a verbal startling sound unavailable. (A very small beanbag or sandbag, ie just a few onces weight, tossed to connect with his butt or mid-torso might work as a not-too-scary interruptor, but that requires that the user have reasonably good aim. This owner probably wouldn't be willing and couldn't aim well enough) I would love for him to be able to remain with her. But at least once she gets him past his marking habit, he would be so much more adoptable and I should be able to find an appropriate adopter and also advise them to continue this anti-marking program for some weeks or more to ensure it does not re-appear in the new home.


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created 9/20/2015 revised 10/10/2015
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