Making his mark!

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Tamsin Durston helps a reader understand the reason her dog is cocking his leg and sniffing the ground constantly.

Q: My 10-year-old terrier is entire. On his walks, he is constantly sniffing the ground and cocking his leg, even though I know he has emptied his bladder. He has always been like this, but it seems to have been getting markedly worse in the last year.                                                                     

Sheila Moore, Lancashire.

A: Tamsin says: It sounds as though your dog is using deliberately and carefully positioned drips of his urine to leave his scent within your local area; this is often called urine marking. Dogs do this to leave a chemical message for other dogs, and leg cocking might help aim the urine spray higher so it has more coverage.

Females can urine mark as well, sometimes cocking their legs too, but it is more commonly seen in entire males. Incredibly, through sniffing the urine marks left by others, dogs can identify individuals and whether they’re available for mating, and other social factors such as their health status. 

Your dog is entire and there might be new, young bitches he can smell and is trying to communicate with, or new males whose urine he’s marking on top of. 

It is also thought that some dogs might increase urine marking if they’re feeling anxious, trying to make themselves feel more secure by spreading more of their scent into the environment, or by creating a bigger combined urine scent overall by adding to urine marks that are already there. If you feel your dog is feeling anxious or under confident, an accredited behaviourist working on veterinary referral could help you build his confidence. Your vet will be able to refer you to a certified clinical animal behaviourist. You could also speak to your vet about the benefits of neutering, however depending on the motivation and emotions involved, neutering might not resolve the urine marking. 

There could also be an element of habitual learning here, through years of practice, with him becoming so used to marking that he might still do it even after being neutered. 

Urine marking can certainly be very frustrating for owners, however it is very normal behaviour. Try keeping your dog’s attention on you with extra tasty treats that magically appear just as you near places he’s likely to mark.

Get his attention while you go past and reward him for focusing on you. You could teach him to touch your hand with his nose for a treat for example, or get him to follow a treat around in a circle on the spot, then ask him to do this in places where you feel he might be tempted to mark. 

But do recognise his need to do it, and provide him with the opportunity to do so to avoid frustration.