Q I have an 11-year-old male Maltese. At an early age he was trained to urinate on a wee wee pad rather than relieve himself outside. But for some reason, he has now started to mark his territory on everything in the house. I have tried and tried to break him of the habit but to no avail. Any feedback you can offer would be helpful.
Dear Ms. Meyer,
A First, it needs to be determined whether your dog is truly urine marking — a way to claim territory — or simply relieving himself. Urine marking typically involves urinating on vertical surfaces — fire hydrants and tree trunks outside, table legs and walls inside. Urinating to rid the body of urine occurs pretty routinely on flat surfaces.
If your dog has started urine marking out of the blue, it probably means there has been a change in his environment. Has someone moved in, or out? Has an aggressive dog moved in next door? Such changes could stress a dog and propel him to protect his territory, to markit, literally.
If a dog is already neutered, which cuts down on the tendency to mark, the problem is very difficult to treat without a mood-stabilizing drug. “My first choice would be clomipramine,” says Nicholas Dodman, BVMS, director of our Behavior Clinic. A tricyclic antidepressant, it stabilizes mood like a serotonin reuptake inhibitor such as Prozac, but also acts on the urinary system itself. It’s used for children who bed wet, in fact.
If it turns out your dog is not urine marking but is actually relieving himself with increased frequency, he may have a medical problem. A visit to the vet is in order to rule out any medical issue, as is a thorough cleaning of your dog’s “spots” in order to get him out of thinking of those spots as places that urinating should happen.