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How to Solve Dog Behavior Problems

Stopping a Dog from Marking Territory

We can't even imagine how the world smells to a dog. A dog's sniffer is an incredibly fine-tuned, delicate instrument compared to our own sniffer. It makes sense, then, that scent-marking -- spraying urine on places and objects to mark territory and claim ownership -- is an important part of canine communication. The chemical scent-messages in a dog's urine tell other dogs just about everything they need to know: where the marking dog hangs out, how long it's been since he's been around, and (in the case of a female) sexual receptivity. A dog who's nervous because he's home alone may mark furniture or walls to reassure himself that everything is all right. Scent-marking can also be a way of asserting dominance, which is why some dogs will lift their legs on other dogs or even people.

Scent-marking is a perfectly normal and natural behavior that is instinctive in your dog. The idea is to let your dog know it is only to be done at specific places and times and not on your living room rug, bathroom floor, or bedspread. Once again, your dominance relationship with your dog can make all the difference. Obedience-train your dog in a positive and humane way, and run him through his commands regularly. This not only clarifies your dominance, it gives a dog who gets bored, lonely, or anxious during the day something to look forward to. Make him work for food, toys, play, and petting. If he wants one of those, have him respond to a command or two first.

Always walk through doors before he does, and don't let him jump up on you or get on the furniture, especially your bed. In canine society, you usually only get to jump on or lay next to an equal or subordinate dog. Neutering, especially before the dog is one year old, is another good preventative. Your dog will still be protective of home and family, but he won't have a hormone-driven desire to stake out reproductive territory.

Spraying due to separation anxiety is another matter. Your best bet here is to slowly get your dog used to being home by himself. Start with something simple, like leaving him alone in a room for just a minute or two and then returning. Then leave the house, returning after a few minutes. Each time you practice this, stay away for just a little bit longer. Once your dog learns you always come back, he'll be more comfortable staying by himself. Confining him to a crate can also help him feel more secure.

To deter your dog from spraying furniture, attach a piece of aluminum foil to the area where your dog likes to spray. The next time he does it, the urine hitting the foil will make a noise and may also splash back on him.

Finally, don't confuse scent-marking with an ordinary housebreaking problem. A large puddle of urine on the kitchen floor or near the back door is probably a sign the dog needed to get outside while you were gone -- not a display of dominance!

When to Call the Vet

As with any behavior problem, have your vet take a look at your dog before you start any corrections. If there's a physical cause for the behavior, no amount of training or correction will change it.

Dogs love to pull on leashes, but if they do it excessively, you'll want to train them out of this habit. We cover how, in the next section.