Sunday, February 7, 2010

Why Do Dogs Mark Their Territory?

By Ruthie Bently

Both male and female dogs mark their territory to let other animals (including humans) know that this is their space and it should not be trespassed upon or there will be consequences. Male dogs and some females will lift their leg. The reason is to leave their scent highest on the place they are marking. I know a female that both lifts her leg and squats. She learned the leg lifting because she grew up with a male dog; he was her role model and lifted his leg, so she does too.

Have you ever wondered why so many male dogs show up when your female goes into season for the first time? A male dog can tell by the smell of a female’s urine that she is in season and ready to breed, and they’ll come from quite a distance. A dog’s scent is carried on the wind and a dog’s sense of smell is so good, their competitors whether domestic or wild, get the warning at a distance. Before we had a fenced place for my AmStaff Skye, I’d leash walk her around the property. I let her amble where she wanted and she always chose the perimeters of the property, stopping every so often to do her business. We had coyotes when we moved here and saw one loping across our meadow once. After Skye came to live here we never saw them again, but we could hear them howling at night from a distance.

Sometimes a male dog will mark inside the house if he feels his territory is threatened, and this can pertain to his owner as well. I had a female client (Ms. Smith) with an adult intact male Akita named Buck. Ms. Smith began dating after a divorce, and Buck had an issue with her male friend. The dog would go into the bathroom and mark the toilet after her boyfriend had used it. Ms. Smith tried closing the bathroom door, but Buck then marked the door. Neutering wasn’t an option since Buck was a show dog and you cannot show a neutered dog in confirmation. I suggested that her boyfriend bring some dog treats when he came over. I hoped that having him give Buck a treat when he walked in and during the visit might help the dog become more accepting and be less apt to mark the toilet or bathroom door. It worked so well that Ms. Smith and her boyfriend got married, and Buck was the ring bearer at their wedding.

If you have a dog that is going potty in an inappropriate place, they can be retrained to go outside. I had to retrain Skye when she came to live here because she was used to going potty in a concrete run. She got to go outside and play with the other dogs and occasionally went on the grass, but usually waited to go back to her kennel to potty. Until I retrained her, Skye would have accidents in the house even if I took her outside every half hour. I spoke with an animal behaviorist recently and she explained that Skye could not differentiate between the concrete run floor and the kitchen floor because they were both smooth, flat surfaces. It is important to train a dog to go outside because the surfaces outside are different than the floors of a house.

I was able to use dog treats as a reinforcement for good behavior. I discovered the best approach was to reward Skye when she pottied outside, making sure to do so before we went back in the house. Now, she even barks to let me know when she needs to go outside. Having Skye properly house-trained has stopped her from marking inside the house, and has certainly made life easier!

Read more articles by Ruthie Bently

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