how to stop a male dog from marking inside the house
Pet Behavioral Problems

Why Do Dogs Mark Territory?

Dogs mark their territory for a plethora of reasons. It usually comes down to insecurity, anxiety, excitement, or sex drive. The quickest way to stop a dog from marking is to have them neutered or spayed.

However, some neutered and spayed dogs still urine mark. This may come suddenly, such as after a big life change, due to illness, or when an old dog becomes incontinent.

Or, it may be consistent, such as when a dog hasn’t been potty trained correctly.

In this article, we’ll talk all about why dogs mark their territory indoors and outside, when it becomes a problem, and how to stop indoor urine marking.

What Does Dog Marking Mean?

Stated simply, dog marking is when a canine lays claim to something by peeing on it.

This is a common behavior while your dog is out and about, as these territorial animals will look to carve out tiny kingdoms to call their own whenever they find a patch of land untainted by another dog’s urine. This is why dogs are so keen to sniff along the ground and investigate the messages and information left behind by their fellow canines.

As far as your dog is concerned, nothing is off-limits for marking. Mailboxes, lampposts, street signs, fire hydrants … even other dogs. Your pooch may cock their leg or squat over any one of these and claim them for themselves.

However, this is an action that should be limited to outdoors. If a dog or puppy has been toilet trained, they won’t be relieving themselves inside the house regardless of any urge to mark their territory.

Why has my dog started marking territory?

Do Dogs Mark to Show Dominance?

Many people believe their dogs mark to show dominance, out of spite, or to make them angry. All of these are untrue.

Despite what common training myths would have you believe, dogs don’t aspire to dominate their owners or be the “alpha dog” in charge.

Dominance theory of dog training was based on a faulty study of captive wolves. These wolves were put into an unsuitable environment and lived far differently than they would in the wild—which also led to them acting much differently than they would naturally.

In the wild, wolves live in families. The parents are in charge, as you’d expect, since their duty is to care for their pups. Wolf pups look up to their parents just like you’d see in human families—following them around, learning from them, and depending on them to learn how to be a wolf!

The original researcher has long stated that his findings were inaccurate. Yet, even today, dog trainers and owners perpetuate this myth. Even more problematically, they push these standards onto domesticated dogs that are unlike wolves in so many ways!

When looking to break any behavior, it’s vital to know where it originates. In this case, dogs marking territory often feel stressed and insecure. You won’t fix this by punishing or dominating them. 

What do Dogs do When they Mark Territory?

Dogs usually mark territory using urine. Sometimes, they’ll also use feces to show that something belongs to them.

When your dog is about to mark their territory, you might notice them sniffing around or moving in circles as though they’re looking for something.

Once they find the right spot, they’ll either begin to squat or lift one hind leg. Once this happens, you’ll need to move quickly to stop them before they pee!

Marking isn’t all about territory, either—it’s a way for dogs to communicate. A dog’s pee and poop contain a scent that reveals many personal details to other dogs in the area. 

Urine can say things like I’m a young male dog looking for a mate! Or this bed is mine, so you better back off!

It often works as a non-aggressive way of laying claim to something. Most dogs want to avoid confrontation as often as possible because it’s stressful! They’ve also adapted this way because dogs who are constantly fighting have a lower risk of survival.

Dogs don’t need a lot of urine to mark, either—you might notice your dog marking several times on a walk, for instance. They’ll continue even when they’re only producing drops of pee.

dog marking territory

Why do Dogs Mark their Territory?

Dogs can mark their territory for several reasons, including:

  • They’re insecure or anxious
  • There aren’t enough resources in the household
  • The dog feels overstimulated, such as after play
  • They haven’t been neutered or spayed

Insecurity or anxious feelings are one of the leading causes of marking indoors. Dogs might urinate if they feel intimidated by another dog in the household or when a stranger comes to visit and they feel nervous.

Dogs with separation anxiety are another example of this. They might pee in the house out of pure nerves. Many people think their dogs are acting spitefully, but they’re actually just acting out because they feel afraid.

If there aren’t enough resources, such as food, water, space, toys, or beds, your dog may feel the need to mark to claim what’s theirs. Make sure every dog in the household has their needs met, including attention, playtime, and a space to call their own.

After play or when you get home from work, your dog might feel overstimulated and overexcited. This can make them urinate as well.

Lastly, unneutered male dogs are most likely to urine mark—and they usually stop after neuter surgery. Spaying and neutering your dog also comes with numerous other health and behavioral benefits, so we highly recommend it!

Related article: Do Female Dogs Mark Territory

Should I let my Dog Mark Territory?

Outdoors—absolutely, allow your dog to mark territory as much as they like! 

I don’t recommend trying to end this behavior. It’s completely natural, and it’s how our dogs communicate with one another.

Indoors, of course, is another story. If your dog is marking indoors, you need to put an end to it immediately. The longer your dog pees in the house, the more difficult it’ll be to train them out of this behavior.

Be sure to clean the urine thoroughly and bring your dog out to go potty every few hours. You’re basically potty training them all over again—it’s tedious, but it’s the only way through!

dog peeing on a brick wall
Potty Breaks Are Important

Why do Dogs Mark Territory Inside the House?

Dogs can mark territory indoors for several reasons, including:

  • A recent life change like moving house, a new family member, or their owner working new hours
  • Lack of potty training
  • Having to hold their urine for too long—adult dogs should only hold their bladder for six hours maximum, while puppies may struggle after only an hour or two
  • Illness, such as a urinary tract infection
  • Incontinence due to old age
  • Anxiety—both the emotion and the disorder can cause a dog to urinate indoors
  • Lack of resources such as food and water bowls, toys, beds, or human affection
  • Overstimulation due to excitement, such as after a fun play session or when you come home
  • An intact dog is more likely to mark, especially an unneutered male

How to Stop Territory Marking in Dogs

First, let’s discuss what not to do when your dog is marking territory. There is a ton of bad advice out there!

As we discussed above, dominating your dog isn’t effective. It’s an unacceptable way of dealing with a dog’s behavior that will only make things worse, cause fear, and even lead to aggression in your dog.

Oftentimes, the ways people dominate their dogs are abusive, such as pinning them down or physically punishing them.

  • Never push your dog’s nose into their urine. This doesn’t teach them anything, and your dog won’t understand what you’re upset about. By the time you’re able to do this, your dog has already forgotten about their actions.
  • Never physically punish your dog for peeing in the house. This is abusive—if you find yourself frustrated to this point, rehoming your dog is the kindest thing you can do for them.
  • Don’t yell at or scold your dog for marking indoors. We all lose our tempers sometimes, but try your best to avoid scolding your dog. They may look “guilty,” but that’s actually just a fear response—they likely won’t know what they’re being yelled at for.

These punishments can make your dog afraid to go potty in front of you, which means they won’t want to potty outside when you’re around either!

They worsen your relationship with your dog, often make them fearful of you, and won’t stop the marking behavior.

Here are some methods that can actually help to prevent urine marking indoors:

  • Bring your dog outside to potty as often as possible. Go back to the puppy days: take your dog outside every couple of hours, when you wake up in the morning, after eating, after playing, and before bedtime each night.
  • Catch your dog before they mark. Again, we’re going back to potty-training days. Watch your dog closely and stop them before they mark by calmly bringing them outside to do their business. Don’t yell or punish, just redirect.
  • Block access to the spots they mark. Pick up items your dog commonly marks, such as clothing piles on the floor. If it’s a room they’re pottying in, close the door until you’ve cleaned it well and your dog is reliably potty trained once more.
  • Crate train your dog. Don’t buy a crate and leave your dog in it if they haven’t been trained! But do crate train them correctly to contain any mess while you’re sleeping or out of the house and can’t watch them.
  • Clean the urine well so that no scent is leftover. Dogs have powerful noses. If they can still smell the urine, they’ll keep going in the same spot again and again. Use an enzyme cleaner to completely eliminate the stain and the smell.
  • Keep a consistent routine. Dogs thrive on routine, and even small changes can lead to problem behaviors, such as marking indoors. Try to stick to a schedule and give your dog meals, walks, and playtime at the same time each day.
    If you need to make a change or have already, keep things as familiar as possible. For instance, when adopting a new puppy, continue to take your dog on their daily walks so they don’t feel that everything changed once the puppy moved in!