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Pet Health
Behaviour Articles
By Donna Brander, Animal Behaviourist

<Back to behaviour articles

This information is to be used as guidelines only. Decisions made about the future of any pet should be based on a professional assessment and a course of treatment that is personalised for the pet's individual situation.

Territorial Urination

Hector the Dachshund had quickly learned about the IMPORTANT issue of going outside in order to urinate and defecate. The family had gone on and on about this particular behaviour right from the moment he had come into the house as a youngster. The family understood that he did not have much control at first, but before too much time went by, Hector became more capable of controlling himself and understood where the “home” boundaries were compared to the outside areas in which he was allowed to relieve himself.

Hector also had a brief period as a puppy of “piddling”. This occurred when he was anxious or frightened or overly excited about particular situations. It sometimes occurred when his owners returned to the house, or new people came into the house or if he was disciplined. Hector had no control over this behaviour because it is the proper way puppies are to expected to show respect to their elders in a dog pack.  It is the puppies way of saying “I am being submissive!”, “Don’t attack me!”.  Again, Hector was lucky because his family understood this and simply ignored the behaviour.  They also made efforts to help Hector by not making greetings too exciting and waiting until he was quiet before they paid attention to him.

Hector had also made an early, major mistake of urinating in his families bed.  Although this never happened again, it may have been an early effort at “marking” an important item in order to possess it.  The family made it very clear to Hector that the bed belonged to them and his possessing it in such a manner was not on!  He gave up on this item but it may have been a portent of things to come.

Hector was growing up and beginning to do a lot of things that grown up dogs do. Hector’s family did not want to neuter Hector because they did not want him to change. They liked Hector exactly they way he was. Until he began to urinate on upright surfaces in the house.  This behaviour is what is called “sexually dimorphic” behaviour in that it usually occurs in uncastrated, male dogs. Sexually dimorphic simply means that the behaviour is controlled by the sexual biology of the animal, in this case, the hormone testosterone. It is an effort by the male dog to mark his territoryagainst other males and if it is going to be a problem, it will usually start when or slightly after the young dog begins to lift his leg to urinate.  Lifting the leg is also sexually dimorphic behaviour.

Lifting the leg to urinate on vertical surfaces in the house should be differentiated from housetraining problems or “piddling” as described above. It will usually occurs in un-castrated, young males who have previously been  well behaved in the house but has also been observed in castrated males and in females, as well.  There is a tendency for the marking to be near the entrances to the house; i.e. a message left by the dog showing possession of the house.  Close study of the dogs behaviour may reveal the stimuli triggering the urination. It may occur if a visitor arrives or when the dog is allowed in a room it does not often visit. Once used, the dog will have a tendency to be drawn back to the same spot. The behaviour can also be linked to a lack of a consistent hierarchy within the dogs household pack. Sometimes if the status of various members of the family pack is not settled, the dog will mark various objects of individuals in order to “possess” the item and therefore gain rank.

All of this information gives clues as to how to approach the problem behaviour.  The owner might consider having their pet assessed as to the effect of castration.  Some young dogs will stop marking behaviour if castration is completed early in their life. An assessment of the benefits of castration could be evaluated by having the dog treated with a chemical castration; e.g. delmadinone (Tardak). If there is a positive response when on Delmadinone, i.e. no marking behaviour, castration may be the answer for your dog.  If you are against castration or if this test was unsuccessful, the following should be tried.

Make sure the dog has limited access to areas which he has previously marked. Clean the marked areas thoroughly with a strong odour eliminator.

Don’t forget to praise him for lifting his leg in appropriate places, even to following him into the garden until you are sure he has the idea.

Consistency is the key to having a confident dog.  Whatever behaviour program you decide to follow, make sure the whole family is involved so your dog is certain of what is expected of him.

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