Dog Marking: What Works, Kind Of Works, And Doesn't Work

Dog marking in the house is a big problem. I've written posts about spay and neuter and the topic of dog marking comes up occasionally in the comments. The topic of dog marking tends to be closely tied to the topic of spay and neuter because neutering a dog is a commonly prescribed remedy for dog marking.

I grew up with a couple of dogs, and, as an adult, I've had a couple of dogs as well. In addition to my dogs, I've helped train a couple of friends dogs. Young Zeke, who is the main subject of this blog, was housebroken in a week's time. He is now nearly a year old and does not mark in the house. My dog Shiloh is an intact 3 year old male. He does not mark in the house.  No dog that has ever been in my house, or that I have helped train, has ever demonstrated any dog marking in the house. It got me thinking:  Why is it that dogs I work with do not demonstrate this problem, and other dogs have a terrible problem.  Am I just lucky, or am I doing something right (inadvertently so).

My Theory

Gee_whizIn this day and age, a theory for any problem is easy to come by. All one needs to do to be an expert is to present this idea on the web. You want an expert theory on why the Chicago Cubs haven't won a World Series since horses were affordable transportation? I'm your man! A theory on the consequences of the Peloponnesian War? Gotcha covered.

Likewise, I've got a theory on dog marking: A dog that is marking in the house is not housebroken. My definition of housebroken is a dog that will not deposit urine in the house. The reason for this behavior is irrelevant. The rule and the requisite behavior modification remains the same: no urine in the house.

However, I won't present myself as an expert. Since I have never dealt with this problem, I am not an expert. I had no idea if my theory is correct. Some research was in order. After a bit of research, I have found that there are those who agree with me. According to Kathy Diamond Davis, on this website:

The difference between urine marking and the dog not being housetrained can be hard to determine, and it's not really important to know, since both are handled the same way.

At least one other person agrees with my theory. A marking dog is a dog that has not been completely housebroken.

The Intact Dog And Marking

I'm not going to go into depth outlining the causes of dog marking. A google search will provide this information. What I am going to do is discuss the relationship between dog marking and spay and neuter.

Dogs being territorial is one of the most commonly cited reason for dog marking. An intact male dog tends to be more territorial, which is the reason for the link between spay and neuter and dog marking.

Every bit of info on this topic that I have surveyed tends to say the same thing. Neutering a dog early will make a dog less terratorial, and, as a result, this dog will be easier to train to not mark in the house. the rest of the information is this:  there is a huge behavioral component to this dog marking. Simply neutering a dog will not fix the problem. You, the owner will need to engage in behavior modification of your dog.

In other words, regardless of what you do, you will need to housebreak your dog. Neutering early may make the housebreaking process easier, but it needs to happen if you don't want the dog doing its business in the house.

Is Neutering A Requirement To Prevent Dog Marking?


Let me say it a different way.


peeing croppedAs I eluded to above, I have owned, trained, or lived with several different male dogs. All of these dogs was intact during its formative years. Not a single one of these dogs marked in the house. If you have further doubts on this, I suggest you contact individuals who tend to keep intact dogs:  breeders, conformation show people, and hunters. They will tell you that dog marking has never been a reason that they have neutered a dog.

I am not a fan of desexing a dog before 1 year of age. Check out an article I wrote here with all the science on the topic. There are some very good health reasons to keep a dog intact for longer. As I said before, early neutering may make the housebreaking process easier, but experience has shown that intact dogs are very receptive to housebreaking techniques. Putting it another way: if you can house break an intact dog, and there are health risks related to early neuter of a dog, why would dog marking be a valid excuse for the early neuter of a dog? It just isn't necessary.

Will Neutering My Male Dog Fix An Existing Problem?

Probably not. By the time the marking behavior has become a problem, it is entrenched in the dog.  It is not a physiological problem; it is a behavioral problem.

Let me put it another way:

Probably not. If you are at your wits end, and you are talking about needing to surrender the dog, by all means give it a try. But, as you try that path, please consider visiting a dog behaviorist to see if he or she can shed some light, because there is always a behavioral component to dog marking.

The Solution

If your dog is a chronic marker, the solution is to housebreak your dog. Again. Help him or her learn it right and completely this time. I am sure that you put the work into your pup to housebreak him, but, in his or her mind, there are exceptions. The dog does not understand what is required. This behavior can be changed.

Note: This is a companion piece to my article on housebreaking.  Please take a look.

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