My dog is urinating in the house: what’s the problem?

My male dog has recently started urinating in the house. He urinates in the same spot, lifting his leg on a cabinet I only recently bought. He is doggy-door trained so he is able to go outside to pee whenever he wants. I have cleaned both the cabinet and floor with bleach and vinegar and have even moved the cabinet, but he continues to only pee on that one corner of the cabinet. What’s going on with him?

Veterinary behaviourist Dr Julia Albright says:

To us humans, urine and faeces are simply a byproduct of the body ridding itself of waste products. However, to almost every other species, these materials provide lots of information about species, gender, sexual status … and that’s just what we know about. “Waste” products probably contain even more information about an individual, such as emotional state or physical fitness. Humans have a wimpy olfactory system compared to most animals. A dog can have up to 150x more primary olfactory bulb nerve cells than a human, and that doesn’t include the accessory olfactory, or pheromone, system. Pheromones are chemical communications between members of the same species that convey information and prepare that receiving animal for an important behaviour like escape or sex.

Urinating could be anxiety-driven

We categorise elimination behaviours into two broad categories—toileting and marking. Toileting is elimination motivated by the need to remove waste, whereas marking has a more complex social motivation. Many assume urine marking is always an assertive territorial behaviuor. But marking with urine or faeces can also be an anxiety-driven behaviour. Because waste is rich in scent, we believe that the animals are often placing a familiar and probably calming scent in their environment. This is akin to a human placing visually pleasing art or family photos in a room.

Urinating in the home is a common hallmark of separation distress, for example, and the owner should have this assessed by a veterinarian or veterinary behaviourist.

This dog may be feeling some stress about another dog or interactions with a person in the home and performing this behaviour as a stress-displacement behaviour.

More history needs to be obtained to properly diagnose the young adult male dog in this scenario. A thorough physical exam with a urinalysis should be performed. Infection or other urinary tract disease should be ruled out.

Consider how much urination there is

Is he urinating large amounts or small amounts? Does he urinate in other locations in the home or just this location?

It’s possible he is not completely housetrained and this unwanted urination in the house is due to toileting. Free access to the outdoors does not mean the dog will always choose to toilet outdoors. Dogs don’t naturally understand they should use the doggy door to eliminate in the grass. This has to be reinforced. A large volume of urine would lead us to suspect a toileting issue and a smaller amount of urine is more likely due to marking or painful urination.

It is likely that he is performing marking behaviour. The new or unusual odour of the material and prominent high-traffic location of the heavily “hit” corner could have been a strong factor in the start of the marking behaviour, but there may be more to the story.

Has the dog been neutered?

Social marking is much greater in intact male dogs compared to neutered ones, and urine marking is one of the few problem behaviours that data show is reduced through sexual altering.

The urine odour may continue to draw the animal, and even other animals, to the soiled spot to “mark over” the area, regardless of the original cause. It’s difficult to completely remove urine odours. Several smaller studies support enzymatic cleaners to degrade the urine molecules as part of cleaning. Instead of vinegar or bleach, which may be harsh and actually push the dog to mark over the odd smell, the owner could try a commercial enzymatic cleaner.

Article extracted from DVM360