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Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Ask the Vet with Dr. Mark:
Toy Dogs and Indoor Marking Behaviors

by Mark Nunez, DVM

© courtesy wotthe7734 via Flickr
Dear Dr. Mark:

Chewie has forgotten his house training! Not entirely, but he marks at night (early morning) these days. I think since we started keeping the windows open and hence there is more outside noise that he can hear.

Some history:  He was neutered at 2.5 yers old and was not house trained when we adopted him. Though he picked up on his poop training, it took him a really long time to figure out that marking inside is not right. I don't think he entirely gets it.

If we put a belly band on him thru the night for a week or so, he will stop marking, but he might start again because of random stimulation or doggie visitors. This happens once or twice a year, then there is calm for a few months, and then he forgets again. And the smarty pants will show it to me in the morning by sniffing the area, like "Oh, you haven't cleaned up my pee here, look."


Dear Ms. Hingle,

This is an excellent question that has hints of both medical AND behavioral issues.  On the behavior side of the house, his issue can be improper housetraining and/or urine marking.  Many people think that neutered dogs do not mark, but that is not the case.  Many dogs that are neutered later in life will continue to mark because the behavior becomes learned, even when the hormonal drive is removed.  Typically marking happens on vertical surfaces, like walls, chair legs, bed posts, etc...  It can happen on horizontal surfaces, but the general rule of thumb is vertical.  Dogs lift their legs when marking in order to get the urine as high up onto a surface as possible.  This allows their scent to be smelled at much greater distances than if they just go on the ground or the floor. 

Improper housetraining is also another behavioral possibility.  Many small dog OWNERS have difficulty with housetraining.  I say owners have the trouble and not the dogs because of variable reinforcement.  When a Chihuahua eliminates on the floor, it's nowhere near a big of a deal (literally) as when a Great Danes does.  So, what commonly happens is the owners are not as diligent with housetraining and they variably reinforce the rules.  A variable rate of reinforcement will cause a behavior to become very strong and difficult to change, whether the behavior is good or bad.  This is what makes gambling so addictive to humans, even though we are guaranteed to lose more than we win if we gamble long enough.  With Chewie being adopted later in life, who knows how his original housetraining went.  So, on the behavior front, you have 2 strikes against you.

Now for the medical side of things, what does not really fit with a behavior cause is the fact that we have an adult dog that was previously housetrained.  Opening a window would be an uncommon trigger.  It could, in theory be a trigger because it is something new to the environment, but this as the sole cause would be a first for me.  The belly band can motivate a dog with a medical issue to hold it for longer periods, so the water is a little muddy concerning its use.

I'm not sure of his age now, but this is a case that should definitely be worked up for a medical cause.  The first rule of behavior modification is to be sure to rule out any potential medical causes.  There are lots of ifs, ands, and maybes with Chewie.  A good medical work up (CBC/Chem Panel/Urinalysis with culture and sensitivity/Abdominal X-rays (bladder stones)) is where I would start.  The urine culture is PARAMOUNT and many veterinarians out there will skip this step.  I have seen "quiet" urine samples grow bacteria on culture that would have otherwise been missed.  It happened with my own dog :-).  X-rays are also important because bladder stones are very common and this is the only way to tell if they are present.  In fact, bladder stones are more common in males that are urinary tract infections.  If/once medical causes are ruled out, the green light for behavior modification goes on!

Good luck with Chewie and thanks for the great question!

Dr. Mark
© courtesy M.N.

Dr. Nunez is a practicing veterinarian while also assisting patients through The Balanced Canine blog and his own online veterinary pharmacy

Have a question for Dr. Mark? Send it to You can also follow Mark on Twitter.

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Richa said...

Chewie is famous now!.:) . thanks Dr Mark and Carrie!

Michael Baught CPDT-KA, CDBC said...

Dr. Mark,

It's so refreshing to read a posting by a veterinarian who obviously has a firm grasp on behavior as well as medicine. Well done!

petdoginsurance said...

This is such an inspirational website and I am looking forward to more insightful post!
Dog sitter Chicago

Thanks Dr Mark and Carrie!

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