Just Ask the Expert: Inappropriate urination: Why only at the neighbors'?
Dr. Tynes welcomes behavior questions from veterinarians and veterinary technicians.
One of my clients has a 6-year-old spayed female pug. When the client visits other people's houses, the dog lifts its leg to urinate in the house. The owner has to keep the dog right by her side to prevent this from happening. The dog has had no accidents at home since it was a puppy. This sounds like a marking behavior. Do you have any ideas on other causes or suggestions for retraining?
A. You are correct that this is likely a marking behavior. However, knowing if the dog squats or lifts its leg in other circumstances either to urinate or mark may also be useful. For example, if the dog squats to urinate in its own yard but lifts its leg to deposit urine when on walks, then the leg lifting in a friend's house is likely to be marking behavior.Many dogs will mark when confronted with new objects. Urine marking might also occur because of anxiety. The anxiety could be associated with a novel place, the presence of other dogs in the home, or even anxiety associated with the people in the home.
DIFFERENTIATING THE PROBLEM
Thus, leg position does not always clearly differentiate marking from elimination behavior until that information is combined with a detailed description of the entire behavior sequence as well as a complete behavioral history. Other associated information such as whether the dog sniffs a lot before and, possibly, after depositing urine or whether or not there is scratching of the ground afterward may help to differentiate marking from elimination. Scratching the ground after eliminating is another form of marking behavior. When combined with a lot of olfactory investigation, it suggests that the event has a purpose other than just responding to the need to empty the bladder. Another criteria that might help to differentiate urine marking from elimination is the fact that smaller quantities of urine are typically produced when urine marking. If the dog were eliminating, then a larger quantity would be expected, as the dog is likely to completely empty its bladder.
RULING OUT A MEDICAL PROBLEM
We are assuming that the dog is not exhibiting any polydipsia or polyuria and that urinary tract disease has been ruled out. If this were a completely new behavior in a 6-year-old dog, I would be cautious about assuming it is strictly behavioral with no medical underpinnings. Even some medical conditions and medications can increase a dog's level of irritability or agitation, making it more anxious and likely to perform an anxiety-related behavior that it may never have performed before. An increased degree of anxiety can also lead to an increased sensitivity to stimuli and, thus, an increase in behaviors such as urine marking.