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Canine Behavior/Male marking and aggression


Love my 3 1/2 year old male Wire Fox Terrier but at the beginning of this year he started marking places in the house, I have a dog door so getting outside is not an issue and neither is his urinary health. He's a very intelligent and for the most part well behaved terrier but I have been unable to stop him marking and he only does it when I am gone so I can't catch him in the act. I have to lock him in the entryway while at work or if I go anywhere, even for an hour. He urinates small amounts, always in the same spots even though I have tried bleach, vinegar and dog repellent. I can tell that he has peed before I even look because he will cower down and hang his head when I enter the house. If he hasn't peed he jumps around happy. I have tried spanking, rubbing his nose with the pee and locking him in the entryway while I am home for an hour(otherwise he has the run of the house)to no avail. I attempted my Vets suggestions of a diaper sporadically (can't leave one on him while at work for 10hrs) with no luck.
He is now starting to become aggressive, growling and snarling when I discipline him for peeing in the house and the last time bit me quite hard on the hand. He is also becoming more aggressive with my boyfriends big male lab, biting him on the side of the face, the ear and trying to mount him when they used to be friends and play. The lab is very timid.
I'm considering neutering him but was informed by the Vet that this may not stop the marking?

Thank you for your question.

Now that your dog is 3 1/2 years old, he's fully adult. So he's demonstrating some fully adult male behaviors. Most males will start marking at a much younger age, though if they had no reason to feel their territory was threatened, they may not. Did this marking behavior begin around the same time as the arrival of your boyfriend's dog? Perhaps not when that dog just visited, but if that dog is now spending nights there occasionally, or has that dog moved in? These could be the trigger for the marking behavior.

I'm wondering, if you're able to confine him to the entry way for 10 hours while you're at work, why would you be unable to diaper him for the same period of time? Are you providing him a potty pad or some other option for him to use while confined? 10 hours is a long time to go between potties. But some dogs are able to manage that with ease, especially when they are unattended because they mostly just nap while they wait for their person to return home.

The reason the diaper is recommended is because that way if he does lift his leg, any urine that comes out will be confined to him and not get on your walls or furniture or floor. This is important because we absolutely have to break the cycle of getting the scent there if we're going to break the habit of trying. Most dogs will only actually pee/mark once or twice with a diaper on before they stop trying while wearing the diaper. That's good because then it reduces the frequency with which the dog practices the behavior. Then, you can put "mark!" on cue so that as you take the diaper off to go outside, you tell him "Mark!" and go out with him. Then, every time he lifts his leg outside you can tell him how great he is with lots of happy praise as well as even a couple of tasty treats. Some people will set up posts along the perimeter of the yard (e.g. one post every 10 feet or 20 feet) around the entire perimeter) and encourage the dog to mark each one. You can get synthetic urine scent in a spray bottle near where the potty pads are kept at the pet store and spray the poles 30-60 minutes before letting your dog out so that odor is fresh to him. It may better incline him to want to mark there to reestablish his own scent on top. The fake urine doesn't have much odor to humans, but it does for the dogs.

As to dealing with the pee spots in the house. I encourage you to use Simple Solution Pet Stain and Odor Remover . I prefer this product over the other retail brands because this has a live bacteria in it whose sole purpose on Earth is to eat and digest the enzymes in urine and feces that cause it to smell like urine and feces. Bleach and vinegar will not remove the urine smell for the dog. We have to remember that just because, humans, can't smell it anymore doesn't mean the dog can no longer smell it. Their sense of smell is roughly 100,000 times more acute than ours - and their nose is right there on the spot (literally, they'll make contact with the spot) while our noses are usually 4 or 5 feet above the spot. I have had great luck with Simple Solution. When my own puppy was potty training and knew where his doggie door was, and had his playpen set up with a potty pad in it, just in case his need was urgent, he got into a habit of going in one area on my rug (about 3 feet from his potty pad!!!). I had cleaned, I thought, but he kept going there. So one night, I turned off all the lights and took my black light out to see what I could see. The stain in that area was much larger than I'd realized and so I hadn't successfully cleaned it all the first time. I cleaned every single spot on that rug that glowed (pee glows under black light). I saturated the carpet clean through to the floor beneath and then just let it dry. The very next day, the puppy was playing and when he had an urgent need, he ran into his playpen and used the potty pad instead of the carpet. Why? Because the carpet finally no longer smelled like a potty spot! That was the last time he used a potty pad as well. I took it away and he's used the dog door since.

I mention my story because it illustrates just how strong the pull is if an area smells like potty spot, the dogs will use it.

I know how frustrating it can be to come home from a long day at work and find a mess you need to clean up. But I can't say this enough: stop punishing your dog for this behavior. It's only making it worse. Here's the thing - dog's don't understand that when you come home and scold him or push his face toward a pee that's hours old that you're mad about the fact that he's done it at all. He may think you don't like WHERE he did it. Or he may just think you're weirdly obsessed with pee. His remorseful body language when you come home is not an indication that he feels bad for having done something. It's an indication that he has made a connection between the presence of urine and you being aggressive toward him (from his perspective). His behaviors are normal dog communications designed to turn off aggression and shut down confrontation. He's not apologizing to you, he's trying to keep you from spanking him, rubbing his nose in it, isolating him when he's just so happy to see you, etc. And as you have seen for yourself, his marking isn't getting less frequent but his aggressive/defensive behavior is getting more obvious.

Now, I want to interrupt myself here to share that I had to learn this lesson the hard way a couple decades ago. I had a dog who would poop in the house while I was out. She'd even poop on my pillow!!! while I was just in the shower! I tried shoving her nose toward it to scold her and she tried to bite me too. I've been where you are. Of course, today I understand that my dog 20 years ago was showing separation anxiety and I was just making it so much worse. But at the time, I had no idea. I was just a dog owning college student back then.

We need to keep a couple of important things in mind. First, dogs don't do things to purposely upset us. When we're upset, they're not happy. Sometimes because we just don't play with them and sometimes because we take our upset out on them. Dogs like us to be happy because when we're happy, good things happen for them. So we need to always remember that he's not marking to upset you. Second, if he really understood that the marking in those areas was wrong, he wouldn't do it. Dogs wouldn't purposely make a mistake. So when we think "he should know by now, I've told him enough times!!" and yet he's still doing it, we have to step back and say, "Apparently I'm not making myself clear to him. How else might I explain to him in a way he will understand that I would appreciate him not peeing there?"

Here's how I would address this today if he were my dog.
1. Confine him when I can't supervise him. Using your entry way is perfectly fine. Give him a bed or blanket and a couple of chew toys to entertain him. There's no reason a dog has to have access to the entire house all day long.

2. Prevent him practicing the behavior I don't like. This means supervise or contain (see above). Or diaper so if he does try to mark, he won't get it on my stuff. And, usually it only takes getting his own belly wet once or twice before he'll stop trying while wearing the belly band. So when you are home, it should be on. Set your timer for every 3 or 4 hours to take it off so he can groom and potty.

3. Supervise all potties when you're home. This means going outside with him and staying there until he goes potty. This does a couple things - first, it allows you to witness that he went so you know he's mostly empty*. Second, it allows you to be present so you can tell him how awesome he is for going where you want him to go.

*Note - most dogs will reserve some urine for the purpose of marking, so even when you see him empty his bladder, he likely still has some urine left and can mark as soon as he goes inside.

4. Some males (and even females) really like to mark. It's a normal dog behavior. So set up the opportunity for him to mark. Take him for a walk every morning before you go to work (this may require getting up a half hour earlier) and encourage him to mark every tree and bush and mailbox. Praise him every time he lifts his leg and keep him out until he's clearly empty - this means that he's lifting his leg and going through the motions, but he really has used all his urine reserves. Or, set up marking stations in your yard as described above with posts. I like 4X4 wood posts that are 2-4 feet tall (the part that sticks out of the ground).

Allowing him the opportunity to do the behavior in an acceptable area will diminish his need to do it in the house as much.

5. If you can't confine him away from certain areas of the house, then protect those areas by placing plastic up so that if he does pee, it's not going to get into the wall or onto the furniture or carpet. You can use tarp material or garbage bags taped to the walls or get plexiglass sheets to put up. Whatever works best in your home.

6. This is super important as it will directly effect your relationship, bond and trust with your dog. Stop punishing him when you find a new mark. You can only punish when you catch him in the act. That means if you see him lifting his leg (or about to), you can tell him a firm "No" and then immediately and as sweetly as possible, invite him outside to do it in the right place. Give him 5-10 minutes supervised outside to relax enough to finish the behavior and then praise the heck out of him for doing it there.

If you come home and find a new mark. IGNORE IT . Walk past it like you don't even see it. Put your stuff down. Take a deep, cleansing breath and love on your dog like you would at any other time. Tell him about your day, and how much you missed him and how you looked so forward to coming home to see him. Give him a treat or a belly scratch or any other thing he loves. The pee has been there for a while already, another 5 minutes isn't going to affect your ability to clean it. Then, occupy your dog with some other activity (a bully stick or chew or whatever he likes) and go clean it up quietly and without anger. He's not doing this to irritate you or ruin your day. I promise, after a single week of your new return ritual - always joyful and happy to see him, you'll stop seeing him cower even if he did pee. This is because he's not cowering because he peed. He's cowering because he's anticipating your reaction. If your reaction changes, his behavior will change to reflect that. And, in doing that, you will reduce his anxiety about your return and that may actually reduce the behavior. That may sound counter intuitive, but it's true; there's an element of anxiety in his marking at this point and so when he knows you're going to come home and he anticipates your reaction, that may actually spur him to mark if he hadn't already... Or mark again.

Neutering may help reduce the behavior if he's doing it in response to another dog's hormones. Example: if the boyfriend's male dog is the reason he's doing this, then reducing your dog's hormones by neutering may help reduce his drive to mark. But, he's been doing this for months now (at least that's what your original question implies), which means it has now become a learned behavior. This means that even with neutering, you will need to go through the retraining process to teach him where he's allowed to mark and where he's not.

In short: We want to prevent him from practicing the behavior through management: confinement away from the areas he's inclined to mark and blocking his ability to get pee onto those surfaces (belly band). We want to supervise as close to 100% of the times each day that urine leaves his body so you can be sure he's in the right place and tell him how much you love it! For every NO, we must provide at least one YES - meaning that as we prevent him access to mark in the house, we must provide ample opportunity to mark outside the house either on walks or with marking stations. Avoid punishing or showing any anger when you find a new mark and clean it with a product like Simple Solution. If that product isn't available near you, read the labels on the products that are. You're looking for one that includes the bacteria. It will likely say "nonpathogenic" or "friendly" bacteria. This is what you want to clean the stains with. Use a black light to be sure you're finding all the mark, and to ensure that when you spray, you're getting all of it.

We can call the problem well on the way to being resolved when you get 90 days without marking inside. This means we're breaking the old habit and creating a new one. At that point, you can do some short test-runs to see if he doesn't mark while you're out for just 20 or 30 minutes. If he's successful there on a few test tries, then you can increase that for an hour. If he's successful a few times with just an hour, you can increase it to 2 hours, etc. If he does mark during a test-run, then he's not ready and the clock starts over, counting to another 90 days and management and supervision are back in place.

Even once you successfully break the habit of marking inside, you will need to continue providing plenty of opportunity to mark outside with supervision and lots of praise. So regular walks or continued use of the marking stations (or both) will continue to be necessary.

I hope this is helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance. It can be daunting to deal with something like this, but it is possible to improve the situation.

Los Angeles Behaviorist  

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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