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Canine Behavior/Dog rubs his head in his own urine.


My two year old bischon frise-yorkie mix has been rubbing his face in urine. This began when I first bought him when he was a puppy. He will rub his face in his urine sometimes until his face is dripping with it. He did this several times a week, and now does it once or twice a week. I potty trained him, and when he goes outside he does it there as well. I took him to a vet and they found no infection of any kind. I asked his vet why he does this and how to fix it, and he told me he never heard of a dog doing that. Sometimes he pees on his bedding and in his food bowl when it is empty. He has lived in the same home his entire life and has the same schedule every day. I don't know how to fix this, he is well behaved in every other way. He doesn't show any  behavior problems other than this.

Normally a dog will rub his face into a scent (bend down, scoot back and forth rubbing muzzle on both sides) as an artifact of behavior involved in "hunting": obtaining the scent of the article of interest in order to avoid being scented by that article (prey).  All of this is instinctual.  It is why a dog will rub itself into horse poop, cat poop, any unusual scent outdoors and even the scent of other dogs.  Urinating on his bed can be a sign of separation anxiety or even a sign of rank opportunism (as is urinating into his empty food bowl, as if to make a statement about the fact there's no food in it.)  Is this "normal"?  Yes, and no.  In this dog's case, rolling in his own urine is odd but it's not an indication of illness, it's a behavioral aberration.

First: go out with the dog and very, very closely observe him.  If he's on leash, it will be difficult for him to rub his face in the manner you described since you will immediately be able to interfere.  By "interfere" I mean, instantly redirect: carry a whistle, blow it at lowest volume when he is OBVIOUSLY about to rub is face in his urine.  The startle effect will stop him, count to five, ask for "sit", heavily reward (tiny food treat), go on as normal.  Dog will acquire avoidance because of interruption without acquiring fear response and will then connect your "sit" with the food reward.  This is called a "bridge behavior": first, stop unwanted behavior without psychologically or emotionally affecting the dog, create a new behavior (counter condition) immediately after that can be rewarded.  The "bridge" will eventually connect to the whistle and the dog may actually begin (over time) to stop and automatically sit.  If this happens, heavily reward and praise lavishly.  This counter conditioning may take weeks, perhaps longer.  Rubbing his face in his own urine can be the result of very poor neonatal environment or some sort of acquired behavior from observing the dam clean up after her puppies by consuming their urine and feces.

In the house, if you are leaving him alone remove his bed and replace it with something else (washable bathroom rug).  When his food bowl is empty (if you're free feeding never let it get empty), remove it immediately until next meal time.  Ask for "sit" before putting the bowl down so the dog will be "earning" his meal.  This should, over time, change his motivation and behavior and should stop him from urinating in the bowl.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

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Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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