Dogs naturally mark their territory to demonstrate ownership of their space. Whether you’re curious about the behaviour, or believe it may be a problem for your dog, you’ve come to the right place to find out more.
How do dogs mark their territory?
Most commonly, dogs mark their territory with a small amount of urine. They tend to lift their back leg and urinate on an object or area, thus claiming it as their own. This is called urine-marking.
So, how does peeing somewhere get the message across that this is their territory?
A dog’s urine contains a lot of information about that specific dog, something that is lost on us humans. Just by smelling it, another dog can know the sex, maturity and social status of the one who left the scent. It acts like a canine calling card.
Females in heat are prone to urinating in a similar way, but here the hormones and pheromones in their urine signal interested males from afar.
A dominant dog will be more inclined to mark their territory in a greater number of places, while a more submissive one may lift their leg in only two or three places while they’re out.
It should be noted that not all male dogs will cock their leg when marking their territory, although this is the most common way. Additionally, despite common misconceptions, some females raise their leg to mark their territory too.
In extreme cases, dogs may release large amounts of urine or even defecate to show something or somewhere is theirs.
Why do dogs mark their territory?
The main culprits are male, non-neutered dogs. These are typically the most assertive dogs, who feel the need to let others know they are there, and that this specific area belongs to them. However, the behaviour can be seen in neutered dogs and even in females.
The more assertive the animal, the more likely they are to mark their territory in high up places. Bears, for example, have been known to scratch trees as far up as they can reach. Pandas have been known to do handstands to leave urine marks as high up as possible. By lifting their legs, dogs are able to urinate on vertical surfaces, showing the next dog who comes along that they are a big, dominant creature.
My dog marks their territory inside
If this is new behaviour for your dog, then it is likely that something has changed in their environment.
The introduction of a new pet into the house can cause a dog to behave territorially, especially if one or both are not spayed/neutered. This new pet’s presences causes a shift in the social dynamic of the household that your current dog may feel needs addressing.
Similarly, the regular presence of a new person can cause a dog to mark their territory. One example of this is when a pet owner’s new partner becomes a regular fixture in the household. Your dog urinating in the house when they are there does not mean that they do not like them, but that they feel threatened or they feel the need to show the new person that they are in his territory.
You could try combatting this by asking the new person to bring treats with them, and make sure they have positive social interactions with the dog.
Additionally, the arrival of a new baby can have the same effect. Your dog urinating on a diaper bag is not a sign of their disapproval of the baby, so much as a reaction to new smells and noises, and potential lack of attention they are now receiving.
Essentially, any person or animal who regularly brings new smells into the home and disturbs the social hierarchy could cause your dog to mark their territory.
Is my dog really marking their territory, or is it a toileting issue?
Signs of marking include: smaller amounts of urine, urinating where other dogs have already been, urinating on vertical surfaces or new objects, urinating after conflict.
If your dog is actually emptying their bladder where they shouldn’t, as opposed to marking their territory, it is called inappropriate urination. Frequent inappropriate urination could be a sign of diabetes, a urinary tract infection, hormone deficiencies or a number of other medical issues. As such, you should contact your vet for advice immediately.
Some dogs, especially puppies, urinate when they are excited. Unfortunately, you cannot always predict when this will happen. This behaviour should become less frequent as the puppy ages.
Additionally, it is not uncommon for dogs to urinate when they feel scared or threatened. This is called submissive urination. In packs, dogs display this behaviour to show the dominant canine that they accept their position as leader.
Signs of submissive urination include: urinating when scolded, greeted, when there are loud noises, or when crouching, rolling over or showing their stomach (these are submissive poses).
What not to do
If you notice any of the signs of marking, inappropriate urination, excitement urination, or submissive urination, the worst thing you can do is to punish your dog.
Imagine for example, you arrive home at 6pm to find a puddle on the floor. You have no idea when or for what reason your dog has done this, but you punish him or her to try and show them it was wrong. In reality, your dog does not understand they are being punished for something they did several hours earlier, and are likely to become scared, inciting more inappropriate behaviour.
Similarly, if your dog displays submissive urination, punishing them could lead to increased instances of the unwanted behaviour as they feel more threatened and unsafe.
For advice on what to do, you should contact your vet who will first rule out medical causes.
Does your dog urinate where you don’t want them to?