By Victoria Stilwell
Scent marking is a very normal and common behavior particularly in male dogs but becomes a big problem when marking occurs in the home. Dogs mark to advertise their presence or to claim territory and resources. Pheromones in urine and feces contain chemical messages that pass on information about the marker such as age, sex, health and reproductive status. Even though urination has a competitive component, it can also occur if a dog is over stimulated, for example, during or after vigorous play, or if a dog becomes anxious in a particular situation, such as when a person leaves. This common expression of anxiety in dogs is often mistaken for spite, resulting in punishment which only serves to increase anxious behavior.
Both sexes scent mark but entire males are the worst offenders as signaling sexual availability and claiming territory is ‘encouraged’ by the presence of testosterone. In many cases neutering can significantly reduce the desire to scent mark, but some dogs continue even after they have been neutered. Resources such as toys, food bowls, chew treats, bones and beds are the most likely objects to be marked and in some cases a dog will actually mark a person or something that smells heavily of that person such as a sofa or bed.
Scent marking is more common in multi-dog households where dogs compete for space, resources and human attention and even though this is a difficult behavior to work with, progress can be made by taking the following steps. Remove high value resources that encourage competitive marking and do not allow the dog or dogs that scent mark to roam free around the home. Take the dogs to a dog -proofed room or crate when you are unable to actively supervise them in order to prevent access to favorite marking spots. Avoid competitive or vigorous play indoors as excess activity encourages urination and if a dog is about to mark, interrupt the behavior with a short vocal noise and immediately direct the dog onto something more positive or take him outside. Help a marking dog succeed by taking him to new and different areas on walks. This will encourage him to mark outside rather than in the home.
Teaching older dogs that are not housebroken to toilet appropriately can also be a challenge. Most dogs raised in a normal domestic situation respond well to a good toileting schedule, but those that have lived in puppy mills are notoriously difficult to teach. Dogs are essentially clean animals and do not like to toilet where they sleep and eat, but because of cramped conditions, puppy mill dogs are forced to do just that. Transitioning into a home is therefore problematic and makes crate training, a usually successfully way to toilet train a dog, much less effective. However even puppy mill dogs can be taught to toilet appropriately with a good schedule that relies on going back to basics and allowing access to outside areas every hour and then gradually building up to less frequent trips as the dog builds up control. Following a schedule builds up a ritual of behavior that eventually becomes predictable and reliable. Every dog needs to feel confident about toileting and punishing accidents will only scare the dog into finding ways of toileting in secret. Human patience and sensitivity is the key to success. •