Decoding dog communication via urine markers

Decoding dog communication via urine markers

Urine marking is the canine behaviour of peeing on things as the dog goes about their daily lives, hopefully outside of the home only! While this behaviour is so common that dog owners often write it off without much thought and simply think of it as the dog peeing, we are all aware to some extent that urinating in small quantities on various things is also one of the main ways of canine scent marking as well.

It is a common myth that only un-neutered male dogs scent mark with urine; while virtually all un-neutered males are apt to do it, neutered males and female dogs will often scent mark on occasion too, some more frequently than others.

Using urine markers to scent mark certain areas or items is about much more than simply tagging a place and saying “I was here” by the dog; it also communicates a lot of information to other dogs that may pass by as well, and has a whole host of potential meanings.

Read on to learn more about what dogs communicate to each other by means of urine marking.

Perimeter marking

If your dog seems to follow a very set routine of peeing in the same places in the yard, garden or around the areas where they are frequently walked, they are likely marking the perimeter of what they see as their own territory. This behaviour is often displayed by watchdogs, guard dogs, and dogs that have a breed history of livestock guarding, or a natural propensity to guard their home and property.

Scent marking in this way provides (in your dog’s mind) the first form of barrier or defence to potential intruders that this area is protected by your dog, and is intended to act as a deterrent to others to steer clear!

I’m here!

You might find when you are out and about that certain walls, trees or areas seem to get more than their fair share of attention from dogs scent marking, with virtually every dog that passes by them stopping to leave their mark! Points that are heavily trafficked by a lot of dogs will often turn into hotspots of urine marking communication, and every dog that passes them will sniff around to find out about what dogs went there before them, and add their own signal to the pile.

Marking and decoding the marks left by other dogs can transmit information such as the sex and maturity of the dog in question, and also, things like what they last ate and how healthy they are!

Bitch in heat

The pheromones given out by an unspayed bitch in heat are very strong and distinctive, and very effectively transferred by urine marking. Bitches in heat will literally broadcast their presence far and wide by means of their urine signals, which can lead to un-neutered male dogs from quite some distance around turning up to read the signals left behind, in the hope of mating!

Sexual territorial marking

We have already covered the basic, simplified version of dogs marking the area that they class as their territory by urine marking, but this can and often does kick up a notch when it comes to marking in the presence of a bitch in heat. If a female dog in heat has scent marked a spot, the next un-neutered male dog to come across it will almost certainly scent-mark the area copiously, both as an attempt to mask the marker of the bitch from other male dogs, and to try to put a sign out saying “this one is mine, keep away!”

Excited scent marking

If a dog is very excited, having a great time and faced with a lot of stimulus, they may scent mark randomly as part of their excitement. They are not trying to convey any particular message by going through this process, other than letting the world know that they are having a great time!

Submissive urination marking

Some dogs will urinate when displaying submission to another dog or person, or if they are nervous or afraid. This is less a signal intended to shout loudly to other dogs that they are there, but more a case of displaying their vulnerability and asking for leeway in its place.

Submissive urination is often displayed by puppies and younger dogs, when they begin to realise that the big wide world is full of much larger, older and more dominant dogs than themselves!

Stress marking

Dogs will act out in a whole host of unusual ways if they are stressed out or upset by something, and urine marking is just one of these. If they feel uncertain, insecure or unhappy in their home environment or when out on walks, they may urine mark as a result of their stress, to try to gain some sense of security in their surroundings and be able to feel comfortable in a place that they see as theirs.


Much like excited scent marking, dogs may scent mark if they are overstimulated by any emotion, be it excitement, stress, sexual arousal, or simply a lot of things going on around them. This may even take the form of marking within the house, or even directly onto people! Dogs do this unconsciously, and it is unlikely to be a sign of wilful disobedience or acting out, and you may even see a shocked reaction from your dog after they have done it.

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