‘You have mail’ - Scent Marking

22nd Nov, 2016

Article written by Claire Atkinson M.A. – Dog Behaviourist

Dogs and cats use marking as a way of communicating with other animals – when they pee or defecate, pheromones are released that are their ‘profile’ in animal terms.

It’s natural, but of course when it happens in the house, it is a behaviour we want to change! There are many reasons for this form of marking, so the first port of call would be your vet to check that there are no medical reasons (e.g. incontinence or infection) involved. Spaying and neutering go a long way to reducing this behaviour. Well-established toilet training is also important.

Many animals mark in order to establish their territory. The presence of other pets may thus ‘encourage’ the marking, particularly if there is competitiveness amongst them. They may also mark clothing, toys and other resources. They may mark when under stress during a change of environment – this is fairly common amongst rescue pets when they are rehomed, so even with older dogs back-to-basics toilet training may be required.

If, for example, there are multiple pets, one needs to detect which one is the culprit. Putting on your detective hat to catch the ‘perp’ may need video surveillance to identify them. Some cat owners tend to blame the male, but it is just as likely to be the female. With cats, it’s interesting to note that when they spray, they back up to the chosen area and knead with their paws. They choose a vertical surface for the most part, so horizontal marking may have another cause.

Excitement, play or fear may also cause elevated marking.

There are so many variables involved in scent marking that it is difficult to establish both the cause and the appropriate treatment. If, for example, a dog always pees on the furniture, one has to become creative and keep him away from that area. Allowing pets to roam freely through the house makes it more difficult, so using a crate can be an effective management tool, as animals prefer not to mark in their dens. With cats, placement of a litter box in the chosen area may help. Obviously, cleaning thoroughly to remove any traces is essential. Just soap and water won’t do it; although it smells nicer to you, animals have a keen sense of smell and can still detect the marking through the fragrance. White spirit vinegar is effective, or try a microbial pet odour cleaner – usually available as a spray.

If simple remedies are not working, please consult a professional behaviourist who can help you unearth the causes and suggest an appropriate remedy.