ELIMINATING THE PROBLEM
Fortunately, because the behavior is limited to such a specific circumstance, treatment will be similar regardless of the
diagnosis (urine marking vs. elimination). The first step is always to prevent the behavior, if possible, and it sounds as
if the owner is already doing that. One way she can do this and also teach the dog some alternative behaviors at the same
time is to have the dog on a head halter and leash when she enters other people's homes. When the dog begins to sniff and
investigate an area, as if it is going to mark it, the owner can interrupt the behavior by gently turning the dog's head away
from the area and asking the dog to do something else that is incompatible with leg lifting, such as having the dog sit. When
the dog sits, the owner should be ready with praise and a small treat. When used as a reward, treats should always be small,
about the size of a pea (or even smaller for small dogs), and something very special that the dog will consume quickly so
it will be ready to look to you for your next instruction. It is likely that, if repeated often enough, these steps will eventually
teach the dog that urinating inside any home is unacceptable behavior.
In this particular case, a head halter may be problematic. Shorter-faced dogs, such as pugs, bulldogs, and Boston terriers,
can be difficult to fit with head halters. However, be aware that there are sources for head halters especially for short-nosed
http://www.snootloop.com/). When head halters are not a viable option, body harnesses can often work equally as well, especially if the dog is small,
as in this case. With the dog in a body harness, you can stop its forward motion and often prevent it from performing the
unacceptable behavior. You can then pull the dog toward you and speak to it in an upbeat tone of voice to get its attention
and request an alternative behavior. However, you cannot physically turn its head toward you as you can with a head halter,
which is just one of many reasons why head halters are usually preferred by behaviorists.
UNDERSTANDING THE PROBLEM
One of the reasons this case may seem extremely puzzling to you and your client is the fact that this is a spayed female dog,
and most everyone associates marking behavior with intact male dogs. However, studies have shown that while urinary behavior
is sexually dimorphic in dogs, urinary postures in female dogs vary greatly, and the variation may depend on reproductive
status and even age, in addition to other factors that are not yet well understood. One study demonstrated that 13% of female
dogs in the study population did not squat to urinate, and 3% of males did not elevate their leg to urinate, making it clear
that some variation in elimination behavior is normal for dogs.1 Ultimately, both male and female dogs can be taught that outdoors is the only acceptable place for depositing urine for
any reason, whether it is to mark or eliminate.
Valarie V. Tynes, DVM, DACVB
Premier Veterinary Behavior Consulting
P.O. Box 1413
Sweetwater, TX 79556
1. Sprague RH, Anisko JJ. Elimination patterns in the laboratory beagle. Behaviour 1973;47(3):257-267.