Just Ask the Expert: How can I stop this dog from urine marking in the house?

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Aug 01, 2012

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Q. A 7-year-old neutered male Bichon cross has always marked the same corner of the wall in the house since he was young. The owners are now moving to a new home. How can they prevent this behavior in the new home?


John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB
A. Whenever dealing with any inappropriate urination, it is essential to make a proper diagnosis. As with any behavior problem, the first step is a complete physical examination and laboratory screening (complete blood count, serum chemistry profile, and urinalysis) to rule out any medical contributor to the behavior. In terms of making a behavioral diagnosis, assuming the dog is healthy from a medical standpoint, the main rule-outs are urine marking and failure to housetrain.

I bring this up for two reasons:
  • First, you mentioned that the behavior has been going on since the dog was young. Urine marking frequently begins after the age of sexual maturity, which is around 6 to 12 months of age. If the behavior has been going on since the dog was a younger puppy, I would be more concerned about incomplete housetraining being the more likely cause of the behavior.
  • Second, the urination has been occurring in one location. While not always true, urine marking usually occurs in several locations in a home and on varied surfaces. In addition, you would expect to see the typical leg lifting posture with urine marking as opposed to squatting and urinating on a horizontal surface.

STEPS CLIENTS CAN TAKE

Let's assume that the behavior is in fact urine marking. Urine marking can occur for several reasons, including territorial marking, as a response to interdog or dog-human relationship issues, or because of anxiety-related issues. Sexual motivations are more common in intact males (making it critical to verify reproductive status—measure testosterone concentrations if a dog's neuter status is in doubt).

Behaviorally, managing urine marking involves these steps:

1. Prevent access to the areas being marked. Using baby gates, closing off rooms, and covering areas with plastic or carpet runners can all be effective. The attraction to the location can also be reduced by cleaning the area with various enzyme cleaning solutions.

2. Closely supervise the dog. Supervision is imperative to prevent the dog from accessing the area and to allow the owner to interrupt and redirect the behavior by taking the dog outdoors to eliminate. While urine marking has little to do with the need to eliminate, you do not want the dog to develop habitual marking behavior through repetition of the behavior. If needed, securing the dog to the owner's waist or belt with a leash can increase the level of supervision and reduce marking opportunities.

3. Use a belly band. The band prevents soiling and discourages marking since the band can increase a dog's discomfort when urinating into it. Look online for distributors of belly bands for dogs, or resourceful owners can manufacture belly bands.

4. Identify any triggers that may result in the dog marking, and modify them. For example, if the entry of visitors into the home triggers anxiety in a dog and leads to urine marking, you can engage the dog in basic obedience commands for rewards while the visitors enter the home and get settled in.

PHARMACOLOGIC INTERVENTIONS

If the marking behavior persists in spite of the above suggestions, and if you suspect anxiety to be a large component of the behavior, antianxiety medication may be helpful. Clomipramine at a dosage of 1 to 4 mg/kg given twice a day or fluoxetine at a dosage of 0.5 to 2 mg/kg once a day can help reduce the need to urine mark.

Synthetic pheromone therapy can also be helpful in reducing the need to mark. Adaptil (Ceva; previously Dog Appeasing Pheromone) can be used as a plug-in diffuser, collar, or spray. This form of therapy can be particularly useful in the situation described here in that application in a previously unmarked home may reduce the likelihood of urine marking to begin with.

John Ciribassi, DVM, DACVB
Chicagoland Veterinary Behavior Consultants
1042 Mountain Glen Valley
Carol Stream, IL 60188