Dear Inquisitive Canine,
We have a 4-year-old rescue pug named Ham, whom we’ve had for about a year and a half. Our issue is that he marks his urine all over the house. We take him out in the morning, exercise him and praise him when he goes outside. He also gets plenty of attention and love from all of us.
We crate him at night, and now do so during the day, when we can’t watch him because he’ll sneak off and mark. He’ll do it 10 times a day or more. It increases dramatically if we aren’t home. It’s not separation anxiety, because he does it even when all of us are in the house.
Our 3-year-old son adores him, but at this point, his marking is ruining our house and we are considering returning him to the shelter. We’d really like some help!
Of all the ways inquisitive canines communicate with humans, I’m sure you’d agree urine marking is probably one of the least desirable. It’d be so much easier if they could speak our native language, but unfortunately, they don’t.
I applaud you for recognizing that Ham’s marking isn’t fear-based, but rather, more in keeping with a common behavior of dogs. I’m happy to help guide you into developing a house-training plan to keep Ham out of the doghouse (and shelter), and in your loving home.
From what you’ve described above, it sounds like you’re on the right track: using praise when he goes where you want, managing his environment when you’re not able to watch him and keeping a record of his behaviors. As a certified dog trainer who loves the science of training, I applaud you for keeping data!
Although Ham seems to be marking, as opposed to using the inside of your home for full-on bathroom privileges, I’d recommend regular ol’ house-training as the basis of your overall plan. To help get you to your goal, I’ll explain the basics and how they relate to your current plan. In addition to the information below, you can read more on house-training from my sidekick, Poncho, who knows a little about marking behavior.
Quick Tips for Potty Perfection
» Healthy bill of health. Although this has been going on for quite awhile, I recommend you have Ham checked out by his veterinarian. Both physical and dietary reasons can contribute to dogs wanting to mark.
» Understanding the species. Dogs mark — some more than others. For Ham, this behavior may have started as an innate doggy trait being triggered by scent, but has since progressed because of becoming habitual; practice makes perfect with any behavior. Another reason might be because he receives attention for it. Attention is attention, even if it’s negative. My first suggestion would be to make sure this un-wanted behavior is ignored should he mark somewhere he shouldn’t and you’re not there to interrupt and redirect. But let’s hope that’s never the case.
» Body language basics. An indicator of when a dog is about to go mark somewhere is when they suddenly wander off to places unknown. This is more obvious when they were engaged in an activity. For you and the rest of your family, this means keeping a watchful eye on your dog, and limiting Ham’s freedom within the house. The crate is one option, as is a larger exercise pen or specific room you can gate off.
» Learn the routine. Adult dogs are more likely to have the need to eliminate approximately 30 minutes after eating and/or drinking, as well as after sleeping, including prolonged naps. This is something you can track. Escort him to where you want him to go, using a leash if necessary, a little while after he’s consumed something and/or after sleeping. Wait for him to go potty, even walking him around, allowing him to mark, then reward him using praise and high-value treats, along with limited freedom in the house. (He can be off leash, but you’ll still want to watch him.) You basically want to throw a party when he’s doing what you want!
» All for one and one for all. Determine your participation, as well as that of other members of the household. Remember, this is where consistency is of the utmost importance! Ham needs to know that all elimination of any body fluid needs to be done outside the home. And, he needs to know that everyone feels the same way. It’s great that you’re taking him out in the morning, but including additional outings throughout the day can provide training opportunities to reward behaviors you want, along with an outlet to fulfill his dogginess. These outings can also provide mental and physical enrichment that will hopefully make him too tired to want to do much of anything else. Also, you and everyone else need to be on-board with managing Ham’s environment for those times you’re not able to watch him.
» Start with a clean slate. Walls, doorways and any other location Ham has marked will need to be thoroughly cleaned. Since scent is one trigger for marking, and dogs have top-notch sniffers, you’ll want to make sure the solvent you use actually gets rid of the smell. You can find options at local stores and online.
» Reward the right behavior. Use higher-value motivators such as a favorite treat for going potty outside. Throw a party for him. Really, it’ll make a bigger impression.
» Provide an outlet. If Ham enjoys marking, then you might want to consider using his walks as an opportunity to update his status and leave all the pee-mail messages he wants. Plus, if you reward him with treats, he might decide that marking outside is the better payoff, so why bother doing it inside?
» Foster indoor manners. In addition to the crate, or as an option, teach Ham to stay on a bed or mat. You’ll also want to provide enrichment toys to keep him busy. Plus, he should start to associate the crate or bed with a fun place to be. A nice backup behavior would be the “leave it!” cue. You can use this to interrupt any behavior you want him to stop while providing an appropriate behavior you can reward. So, just in case he’s about to mark in an illegal area, you can use the cue to help him think otherwise.
Paws and Reflect
When it comes to house-training (and marking), teaching inquisitive canines where and when is an ongoing process — unlike a toddler. It’s great that you know what you want and know your limitations. Remember, rewarding the exact behavior you want, in the location you want (along with diligent management of Ham’s environment when you’re not training or watching him) is the key to helping you reach your goals. By taking the extra necessary steps, Ham will soon be more the apple of your eye than the thorn in your side!