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Marking

Chihuahua Territorial Marking

Overview

When a Chihuahua starts marking in the house, this can be very frustrating for owners. The house will start to smell like urine, there will be pee stains everywhere, and you may wonder if you need to re-do housebreaking all over again. 

In this section, we will cover:
  • The difference between marking and housebreaking accidents
  • Top reasons why dogs of either gender mark
  • Effective steps you can take to stop this from happening

Marking Vs Accidents

There are two main distinctions between marking and accidents due to not understanding housebreaking rules. 

And it is important to know the difference, since how you deal with this will depend on which one it is.

#1 Amount of urine. With marking, typically a dog will spray out some urine, but he/she will not empty their entire bladder. 

The Chihuahua may move from area to area, spraying out small amounts of pee as he goes, which does add up to a lot of pee. However, most dogs that mark will hold onto some urine in order to mark the spot again soon afterward, or mark in another spot.  
#2 Urine only. When a Chihuahua marks, this is due to a behavioral issue that causes him to want to claim his territory. So, usually there is an understanding of housebreaking rules (as long as you have taught him). 

Marking typically does not involve bowel movements; these will be done outside, as long as you are taking him out. If your Chihuahua is both peeing and poo'ing inside, this typically means that it is a potty training issue and not a marking problem. 

Signs of Marking and Onset

#1 Both male and female dogs mark; however, male dogs do mark more often than females.

When a female marks, she may lift her leg similar to how a male dog pees. 

#2 Marking is most often seen with adult Chihuahuas, 1 to 7 years old. 

Most young puppies do not mark as they have not yet developed strong urges to claim territory or battle for leadership in the hierarchy of the home (more ahead), and most senior Chihuahuas age 8 and up are so well settled into a house, that marking is not an issue.

#3 Spayed and neutered dogs may mark, but this is not seen that often. 

Typically only about 20% of dogs that are fixed will continue to mark afterward. 

With spayed females, incontinence is a side-effect seen in about 20% of dogs after the procedure (anywhere from immediately afterward to years later), so this is something that should be ruled out. 

#4 Marking may be limited to one area, or many throughout the house. If you block off one area, a Chihuahua may find a new one. If the dog is marking several areas, these may be near doorways or on certain objects (see next point).
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Rocky, at 1 year old, photo courtesy of Brian
#5 Vertical objects are marked. In most, but not all cases, an object will be sprayed with urine, as opposed to a dog leaving a puddle on the floor. This may be standing lamps, the side of sofas or chairs, table legs, etc. 

In some cases, a dog will pee directly on his owner's belongings; this is covered next under 'Improper understanding of hierarchy'. 

Reasons why a Chihuahua Will Mark

Part of fixing a marking problem will be to understand what is triggering it to happen. A Chihuahua may be doing this due to one or more of the following:

Improper understanding of hierarchy. 

This reason is often overlooked due to the Chihuahua being such a small dog and owners never assuming that this could happen. 

However, all dogs see the world through canine rules. And canine rules dictate that within each den (house) lives the pack (family, both humans and other pets), and that pack always has an Alpha (the leader - which should be the human(s) owners) and the Betas (the other household members that follow the Alpha). 

A bad marking habit may develop if a Chihuahua thinks that he is the leader or if he is trying to compete for that title.

An often misunderstood aspect of marking is when a dog pees on his owner's bed, shoes, or other objects that seem to be a personal insult. An owner may think that the dog is being mean on purpose or really has a lot of nerve. 

However, in many cases, this is due to the dog feeling as if he is leader (which is a problem), and then marking his owner's areas in an attempt to protect his human from possible threats. The urine sends a signal that essentially says, 'Keep away from my human!'. 
female-tri-color-chihuahua
Penny, at 6 years old, photo courtesy of Barbara
In response to other dogs or animals. 

This can be other dogs within the household, or this can even be dogs outside the home (neighbor dogs, those walking by, etc.). 

Some Chihuahuas may even do this in response to wildlife outside of the home such as squirrel, wild hares, deer, and other animals that may be in or near the yard. 
Changes that cause stress.

This can cause any dog breed to mark, but is very common with the Chihuahua since this is a sensitive breed. This can include such things as moving to a new house, the addition of a family member (human or other pet), the loss of a family member, even a chaotic environment (lots of noise, foot traffic, etc.)
Calling out for a mate.

This is seen more with females in heat. Strong hormonal urges may cause a female Chihuahua to mark areas in an attempt for male dogs to locate her. 

Ruling Out Other Causes

It's easy to jump to the conclusion that a Chihuahua is marking if he/she is peeing all over the house; however, there are some health issues that can cause a dog to have a weak bladder.  And often, loss of bladder control may be the only noticeable sign. 

Health issues include but are not limited to:
  • UTI - Signs may include frequent urination, blood in the urine, dribbling urine, signs of painful urination, licking of the genital area.
  • Bladder stones - Signs include the above, but there may also be decreased urination and/or straining to pee. 
  • Kidney stones - Signs include increased or decreased urine, signs of pain, lethargy, fever, blood in the urine, poor appetite, and/or vomiting. 
  • Canine diabetes - Signs include changes in appetite, excessive thirst, lethargy, sweet-smelling breath, UTI and the accompanying urination changes as listed above, vision issues, poor skin health, and/or vomiting. 

How to Stop a Chihuahua From Marking

Please note that for the best chance of success and to stop marking problems forever, you will want to follow as many of these tips as possible. 

#1 Spay or neuter. About 80% of dogs that are spayed or neutered will cease marking activities afterward. 

#2 Establish yourself as leader. Leaders can be loved and respected, so taking steps to ensure that your Chihuahua understands that you are in charge of the house is not a bad thing at all. 

Not only can this fix marking, but it can also bring about many other positive changes such as listening better to commands, heeling beside you when walking, adherence to training for barking issues, and much more. 
Some ways to do this are to:
  • Command your Chihuahua into a 'sit' any time that you are going to give him food; this is for both meals and any treats. Once he obeys, count to 3, and then place the bowl down or give him his snack.
  • Do not allow your Chihuahua to be the first in or out of the door. Earlier, we spoke about how dogs see the house as the 'den'. Well, the leader (Alpha) always has the right to enter and exit first. So, if you open the door and let your Chihuahua go first, this sends the wrong signal. 
adult-chihuahua
Bella, at 3 months old, photo courtesy of April Prissel 
#3 Assist with any hierarchy issues with other pets. If you have more than one dog, one or both may mark to prove that they are the 'top dog'. 

Typically, if the pets know who the top dog is, this will not happen. But, if the title is up for grabs or the top dog is not receiving enough feedback of where he stands, this is when problems can arise.

The way to fix this is to make it clear that you (the true leader) acknowledges that dog's place. The 'top dog' should have his bowl placed down first, be the first to have a treat, have his leash put on first, etc. 

While it may not seem fair to favor one dog over the other, canines actually are far less stressed when things are done this way. When the power struggle is over, they can relax. 
Chihuahua-wearing-dress
Lula, at 5 months old, photo courtesy of Rachel
If you have a Chihuahua and a cat, it can help to make their own areas very distinct. Give each their own eating areas and own play areas. 
#4 Limit outside views, if you believe that your Chihuahua is marking due to dogs outside the home or to other animals within eyesight.

This can be done just by closing the blinds or curtains. 

If there are lots of squirrels or other wildlife that comes into your yard, consider safe, ethical ways to keep them away from your property. 
#5 Limit marking ability. 

This can be done in several ways.

1) If there are certain areas that your Chihuahua sprays and you can block access to those rooms or spots, do this. However, do keep in mind that other areas may be chosen.

2) Any time that you cannot keep a very close eye on your puppy or dog, he should be placed in a designated area. An indoor playpen is best; and these are highly recommended for other things including separation anxiety and housebreaking. 
3) For males, belly bands can work very well. Since this breed is very tiny, one like Wegreeco's Male Dog Adjustable Wraps in Size Extra Small is a good choice. 

These not only soak up any pee should the dog urinate, but also just wearing one can stop marking since most dogs do not enjoy the feeling of a soaked band. They may cease the behavior to avoid the aftermath. 
#6 Keep a close eye on your Chihuahua. In our previous point, we mentioned the playpen; if you do not have your Chihuahua in his pen, this means that you are able to keep him right beside you.

Any time that he/she makes a motion to spray, make a loud noise to cause a distraction. Some Chihuahuas will respond to a loud clap. For those that do not, a behavior interrupter device like The Company of Animals Pet Corrector often does the trick. 

As soon as the nose has caused the dog to take pause, bring him outside to his designate bathroom area (even if you must carry them there). 
#7 Clean urine marked areas properly. It might seem natural to use hot water and soap to clean up areas that a dog sprayed his urine; however, this rarely works. 

Urine contains very strong enzymes that will linger in minute amounts even after being seemingly washed away with water and detergent. Often, humans will not smell a thing; but, dogs - with their amazing scent receptors - will hone right in.

And when any traces of urine are left behind, this is akin to leaving out a huge sign that announces 'This is the bathroom area, use this spot again!'. 

So, you will want to wash any spots (old and new) with a quality enzyme cleanser like Sunny and Honey's Pet Stain & Odor Miracle Enzyme Cleaner, which is very effective. This is also safe for children and pets, works on any flooring surface including carpeting and wood floors, and is made in the USA.
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