Inappropriate urinating can be frustrating; stains on the back of the sofa, damp carpet and an unpleasant smell lingering in the air are just three reasons why this is a problem, but when it’s your leg or the leg of a family member that is the target for your dog’s pee, it’s even worse. Fortunately you can train your dog out of this unusual habit, provided you identify the cause.
Dogs communicate by smell and scent marking is a very effective way for a dog to tell other dogs that the area they’re in is his territory. In the wild, this is fine, but in the domestic context, it is not appropriate. Some dogs care more about marking their territory than others and will seek to mark frequently, especially when other dogs are about. In some cases, the dog will become so fixated on marking his territory, that he’ll “zone out” and mark your leg or the leg of a visitor too.
Resource guarding is strongly linked to territorialism in dogs. The key difference between the two behaviors is that territorial behavior is directed toward a place, while resource guarding is directed toward objects. Dogs with resource guarding issues typically gather up those items they see as theirs, such as toys and food bowl. Others become aggressive when their resources are approached. In rare cases, a dog might urinate on his resources to show other dogs that they are his. This is most likely to occur in highly dominant dogs. If your dog is protective over you and sees you as his resource, he may take to urinating on your leg to let the world know he lays claim to you.
Anxious dogs pee as an appeasement gesture. It’s their way of saying “I’m not a threat, you’re the boss.” If a dog is highly anxious or fearful, he use submissive urination when it’s not appropriate, such as when being handled by his owner. While it is less likely that your dog will try to aim his pee at your leg in such scenarios, he may spray or leak while being handled and some of that may get on your leg.
Urinary incontinence is most common in older dogs, but can affect dogs of any age if they have a bladder or urinary tract infection. When a dog eliminates through incontinence, he may not realize he’s doing it. So if you’re holding your dog on your lap and he pees on your leg, it unlikely that he’s deliberately using you as his target.
Territorial urination and resource-based urination can be corrected by repeated interruption and distraction-based training. When the dog is about to take aim, divert his attention to something else and reward his compliance. Submissive urination requires a more delicate touch. You need to address the cause of the anxiety and make the dog more at ease. Incontinence is a matter for your veterinarian.
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