Territorial Marking

Territorial Marking




When a dog develops a marking behavior, this is one of the most frustrating issues for owners to contend with. A dog may mark just about anywhere inside the house: in one spot over and over or all over the house. And this may not always be on flooring; dogs may pee all over their owner’s bed, on clothing piles and in some rare instances, even pee on their owner’s lap (though we’ll discuss if this counts are marking).


Cleaning it up and working on stopping a Yorkshire Terrier from doing this may seem like you’re walking on a treadmill, you’re working hard but you’re not going anywhere. So, in this section, we will cover all of the reasons why dogs do this and importantly, how to stop marking behavior. 


What is Marking? 


When a Yorkie marks, this is much different than having an accident. When a dog has a legitimate need to urinate, he or she will empty their bladder. Opposite to that, with marking, it is almost always a quick spray of urine. In most cases, the following will be happening:


Small amounts of urine will be sprayed out; the dog will not release his entire bladder

The dog is house trained and does not eliminate feces in the home, but only urinates inside.

The dog keeps trying to go to the same spot; if the area has been blocked off, attempts may be made to access it or to choose another area to continually pee on. 


Some Facts to Know

  • Both genders are capable of marking; however, males do this more than females.
  • Even if a dog is fixed he/she may mark; however neutered males and spayed females mark far less often than dogs that are intact.
  • This is not a housebreaking issue at all. Even if there is a complete understanding of house training rules, a Yorkie may still develop marking behavior.

Other Things That Can Be Mistaken for Marking- Even if you’re Yorkie meets the criteria as listed, there is still a chance that something else is going on. And since identifying the real problem is the only road to actually resolving it, it is important to go over this checklist to see if your Yorkshire Terrier has other issues that need to be addressed:


Not being 100% fully housebroken – This is actually quite common as an issue misidentified as marking. Your Yorkie may very well pee and poo when you bring him outside. But this in and of itself does not mean that your dog is trained. If you are timing it just right, your Yorkie may just be urinating and eliminating where he stands, which is in the designated bathroom area. But, this is a matter of convenience, timing and coincidence, not of the dog truly understanding that he is following guidelines; in reality, he only followed his owner out the door and to the bathroom spot. 


One element that can hinder dogs from learning is if they are brought out too often. Owners may see this as a good method of avoiding accidents, but it can backfire. Puppies do not have full control of their bladder and bowel muscles. This is why they often have to pee every couple of hours. 


As a Yorkie matures, he can learn to exercise those muscles and gain more control over them… but only if he is given the opportunity. If his owner took him out every 2 hours as a 2 month old puppy, but then continued to do so at the 4 month mark, that pup will have not had a chance to try and hold his needs for a longer time. For this reason, it’s important to closely supervise your Yorkie and work toward this goal, should you believe this is contributing toward the issue of peeing indoors. 


Another element is that dogs do best when they can connect a trigger or command word to an action. They also have a better chance of success if they are praised and rewarded for an action. Therefore, a Yorkie needs to know what he/she is doing and then needs to learn why. This can be resolved by using certain words every time you bring your Yorkie out to go to the bathroom. Good examples are ‘Let’s go pee poo, Bella!’ or ‘Bathroom! Charlie!’ All that matters is that you chose certain words and use them continually. While the Yorkie is in doing his business, repeat the trigger word included in a short, praising phrase; example: ‘Good pee, Roxy!’ or ‘Good, you’re going to the bathroom!’ Just be sure to not say this so loudly or enthusiastically that it becomes a distraction. 

As soon as the Yorkie is done doing the deed, now is the time to give great praise and reward. Once a dog is fully trained, treat rewards are not needed any longer, but can go a long way in quickly gaining a good understanding.  


Health issues – This is another common reason. There is a number of health issues that can cause a dog to lose control of their bladder. This includes but is not limited to urinary tract infection (UTI), bladder infection, bladder stones, kidney infection, kidney stones and diabetes. 


Reasons why a Yorkie Marks - If all health issues have been ruled out and if an owner is sure that the dog fully understands his housebreaking rules, it is then time to look at the reasons that may be prompting the marking behavior.


Improper understanding of hierarchy – This is the most common reason that dogs mark. The hierarchy is the balance of leadership in the house. In a dog’s mind there is no such thing as everyone being equal; there is always a leader (Alpha) of the family (pack) in the house (den). This is the canine way. If a dog feels that he is the leader (Alpha) or even if he thinks that the position is up for grabs, he may mark to hold onto his perceived title or mark to gain it. 


While an owner(s) may feel that it is blatantly obvious that they are the leader(s) based on all that they do for their dog, a Yorkie may have much different ideas. And with the Yorkshire Terrier, we must remember that essentially, size does not matter here. A dog will not automatically assume that his human is his leader because the owner is 10 times his/her size! 


If a Yorkie feels that he/she is superior to his humans, he may mark his territory (and he is following canine rules by doing this). Alternatively, some dogs that believe that they are in charge will feel that as leader, one of their roles is to protect the household. When a dog protects, he does this by claiming territory; it is his/her way of saying ‘I am here, this area is mine, I will protect everyone who resides here, keep away!’ He sprays his urine in all important areas. The Yorkie may tend to mark near the doors. In addition, he may mark his owner’s bed. This is a very interesting aspect, since many owners feel personally insulted if a Yorkie is peeing on their bed. This is often mistaken for the dog ‘getting back’ at their human or doing this out of spite or meanness. But in reality, it is often a case of the dog marking their owner’s bed to protect their human from outsiders. 

Competition with other pets/animals - In a house with proper hierarchy, the humans are the leaders (Alphas) and the dog is the Beta. However, in multiple dog homes, within the group of the Betas, there is also a leader: the Beta Leader. In other words, there is always an ‘Alpha Dog’ in the literal sense. If it is not clear (in the Yorkie’s mind) who the Beta Leader is, he may ‘fight it out’ and marking is one way that a dog will do this.


Stating their sexual availability – This is one reason why territorial marking is so much more prevalent with unfixed dogs. When an un-neutered male, there is a near round-the-clock urge to mate. Owners often don’t think about this if a female canine is not around. However, males can smell females in heat from up to 3 miles away. So, your neighbor’s dog, the dog down the street or even one completely out of view may be triggering your unfixed male Yorkshire Terrier to announce that he is there. 


With un-spayed females, as the heat cycle comes around, hormones are climbing and so is the urge to mate. While females cannot sense potential mates as their male counterparts can, what they do like to do is announce their presence so that males can find them. 


When a Yorkie pees on his human – If a dog pees on his owner’s leg or foot when the owner is standing or sitting, this is often a clear sign of dominance marking. However, if the dog pees on his human when sitting upon his lap, this is usually due to a health issue that is causing a weak bladder, stress or in some cases, a legitimate need to go to the bathroom.


A legitimate need to pee – If a Yorkie is peeing in the house when home alone or when not being supervised, this may simply be a matter of the dog actually needing to pee and having no other choice but to go outside. While this will most often happen when the dog is alone, it can also happen when owners are home but either the Yorkie has not yet learned to signal his needs or his owners were not close enough to notice that their dog had to pee. While marking behavior will often be done in the same spot over and over, if a dog is peeing inside because it was his only resource, he may also do this in one particular spot. Once he urinated there, it essentially became ‘the bathroom area’. So, at any future times when the need to urinate arises, he heads over to what has become his ‘normal’ urination spot. 


What to do: For the matter of a legitimate need, until this is under control by following this advice, do not give the Yorkie free reign in the house. When your Yorkie is home alone, keep him confined to one area. A gated off area or a canine playpen is best, as being crated is often very claustrophobic and can cause overwhelming stress. Lay down pee pads, but do not always expect him/her to ‘hit the mark’. You may want to consider hiring a dog walker to bring your dog out for 30 minutes halfway through his day. If needed, work on stretching out time duration in between bathroom trips; start with 30 extra minutes and go from there


Trying to figure out the reason for marking – While this is not always the case, some general guidelines that may help you know which reason is the cause of why a Yorkie is marking is as follows:

  • Marking on your bed and/or at the entrances to the house (fixed or not fixed dogs)– Improper hierarchy
  • Intact Yorkies marking all over the house – Mating urges, improper hierarchy
  • Marking on objects belonging to visitors - Improper hierarchy
  • Peeing on someone’s foot or leg - Improper hierarchy
  • Peeing on someone’s lap – Health issue, legitimate need to urinate, stress (in rare cases)
  • Peeing inside only when home alone – Legitimate need to urinate 
  • Marking if there is more than one pet in the house – Battle for dominance within the ‘animal pack’, may be concurrent with other reasons

How to Stop Marking Behavior – Please note that these should be done after all possible health issues are ruled out. 


1) If your Yorkshire Terrier is not neutered or spayed, you may wish to consider having this done. See also: Yorkshire Terrier Spaying and Neutering.


2) Properly clean the areas. This is a vital part to stop a Yorkie from marking. If you clean the area with water and soap, it won’t be effective. The scent of soap and trigger a dog to mark to cover that scent up AND regular soap does not remove lingering urine odors. You’ll want to use a quality enzyme killing formula that breaks down the tiny particles found in urine so that no trace amounts linger behind. 

3) Limit line of sight to other dogs. Try to not allow your Yorkie to see other dogs walking near the home - just seeing another dog may trigger your dog to mark. Depending on the layout of your home, curtains can be closed, etc. 


4) Try to make the area in which your dog is marking into a play area. Once the area is properly cleaned, interact with your dog there, encouraging play with a new toy. 


5) When home with your Yorkie, keep a close eye on him/her. As soon as you see your dog get into position to do pee, make a loud noise to distract your dog and then immediately bring him to his bathroom area. Give enthusiastic praise and reward if he urinates there.


6) Work to establish proper hierarchy. All human members of the household must be on the same page for this, we suggest having a family meeting to make sure that everyone is on the same page about new rules that will take effect. You will want to:

  • Only feed your Yorkie after he/she has obeyed the ‘Sit’ command. This goes for both meals and for any snacks.
  • All humans enter and exit the house first. The dog must never lead when leaving or coming back into the ‘den’.
  •  Work on teaching both commands and heeling.
  • Until things improve, stay in a physically superior position to your Yorkie. This means that he/she does not sit on the sofa with you or lie on your bed. 
  • Anything given must be earned. This will most often apply to a new toy, but will be also be for anything that your Yorkie happens to want that you do agree to give; however, he must obey a ‘Sit’ first. 

Marking Behavior with More Than 1 Dog – Since a dog may mark to battle for ranking among the animals and will often stop once a leader is chosen, you can help by establishing which dog is the Alpha Dog. It is usually the older dog. However, you can take notice when the dogs are playing. Is one of them more outgoing? Is one dog pushier when it comes to choosing toys? Which dog runs to their food first? Noticing this, will help you know who is trying harder to be the Alpha Dog. 


Once you know, you can then help both dogs. Remember that the dog that is not the Alpha Dog is just as important and loved as the other dog. Not being the Alpha Dog is not a negative thing. Both dogs will be less stressed and happy, knowing their place in the ‘pack’. Essentially, you will do everything for the Alpha Dog first. When it is time to feed your dogs dinner, give the Alpha Dog his food first. When handing out treats, the Alpha Dog gets his first. When it is time to take the dogs outside for a walk, put the harness and leash on the Alpha Dog first. These small gestures help the dogs feel secure that you- the main leader- are showing them that you understand the ‘pack’.


In addition, follow all of the general rules of stopping marking behavior.

© Yorkies United 2015-2017