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Maltese Marking Issues

It can be frustrating when a Maltese is peeing all over the house and it appears that the dog cannot learn house training or has forgotten housebreaking lessons. However, in most cases, peeing indoors on a regular basic can be attributed to marking. This is a behavioral issue that had nothing to do at all with housebreaking.  Even the well-trained dogs may mark.

Some Maltese will mark by spraying small amounts of urine in the house.  While male dogs get the blame most of the time, it should be noted that both male and female dogs will mark.  While puppies most do this, older Maltese dogs that have never previously marked may begin to do so due to certain triggers.

This is more common with toy breed dogs than larger ones and in households with more than one dog.  Even dogs that are fixed may spray, though they are far less likely to do so (approximately 10%).  Owners will find the most success in stopping this when it is immediately dealt with by following several methods simultaneously.

How to Know if It's Marking

There are some clear signs that a Maltese is marking territory as opposed to urinating to void the bladder including:

•    The urine will be a light spray; the bladder is not emptied.
•    The same area is continually targeted
•    Vertical objects are sprayed such as legs of tables, walls, etc.
•    With females, a leg is raised up similar to how males urinate
•    Almost all dogs that mark start to do so before the age of 2 years old (90%).  Therefore, with older Maltese dogs, this may be due to other causes.


Maltese informaiton Ruling out Medical & Other Behavioral Issues

There are some health conditions that may be mistaken for marking behavior. This includes:

Urinary Incontinence - This is a loss of bladder control and while this is typical seen with senior dogs, it can happen to a dog of any age. There are many conditions that can cause incontinence including: hormonal imbalance, urinary tract infection, disc disease, prostate issues, weak bladder sphincter and kidney disease.

In many cases a dog will have leak urine at night while sleeping and any spraying of urine in the house is not deliberate but rather a voiding of the bladder since muscles are not able to hold it in before the dog is taken outside.

Excitement Urination - This is most often seen with puppies under the age of 1 year old. If your Maltese only sprays out urine when you are just arriving back home or the dog is exceedingly excited, this is not a marking issue but is instead a matter of not yet having full control of the bladder.   This often improves as the dog matures.  It can help to ease into greeting when arriving back home and taking your Maltese for bathroom trips more often.  

Why Maltese Dogs Mark

While it may not make sense that a dog feels the need to mark his/her house since it is already their 'territory' there are reasons why dogs do this and steps you can take to stop the behavior.

Most marking problems are seen with dogs that feel insecure about their place in the hierarchy of the 'pack' (both humans and other pets) or triggered by 'threats' such as a new human or animal family member, visitors to the home or even just the smell of another dog on the owner.

Reasons include:

Calling out for the opposite sex
- This is especially true with intact females. They may mark to signal to males that they are receptive to mating.

A power struggle for leadership of the house -
Dogs that do not have a clear understanding that the humans are the leaders may continually mark in a power struggle to 'claim' the house.  This is not done with malice; it is simply canine instinct to mark territory if a dog feels that no one has done so yet or that if he/she does, it will not be challenged.

Perceived threats -
While households with more than one dog may set up a situation where the animals are fighting for the role of 'alpha dog', Maltese in single-dog households may mark if they sense that other dogs or animals are too close by. This can include your neighbor's pets or even wildlife in the back yard.

How to Stop a Maltese From Marking

1) Spay/ neuter - There are many benefits to having dogs fixed including longer life spans due to eliminating some cancer and greatly reducing the risk of others.  With females, this pertains to uterine and breast cancer, with males this pertains to prostate cancer. Benefits of spaying and neutering are most often seen when this is done early, when a Maltese is still a puppy.  Females will have the most benefits if spaying is done before the first heat.  With males, this is most successful if done before the pup reaches puberty - usually by the 3 or 4 month mark.

This is the #1 method of stopping a dog of either gender from spaying; 90% of dogs will stop marking; though 10% will continue. It is recommended to have all pets (dogs and cats) in the household fixed.

2) Clearly establish yourself as leader - You know it's your house but a marking dog will keep trying to signal that it is his/her house.  For many reason - including marking - the hierarchy of the house should be clear.  Most dogs are better behaved, listen better to commands and are much happier once their human take on the role of leader.

This can be accomplished by all humans following these guidelines:

A Maltese should obey the 'Sit' command before being given any meal or any snack. Food is huge when it comes to establishing leadership and having your Maltese follow this command clearly teaches a dog that food does not just 'appear'; the giving of nourishment is a choice by you - and only done when a command is obeyed. 

Humans should enter and exit the house, followed by the dog. Dogs see the house as the 'den' and by canine 'rules' the leader of that territory enters and exits it first.  Most owners find it easier to attach the leash and let the dog scoot out the door first; however this sends the wrong message.  It's better to keep the leash short, pass through the doorway first and only after the Maltese is alert to the fact that his human left/entered first, then be released to follow.

Dog that really struggle with this should not be allowed to be at the same level as his humans, such as sitting on the sofa with them, or sleeping in his owner's bed.  You'll want to keep yourself physically higher than your Maltese until he/she learns the rules.

Command training for all basic commands can teach a dog that when he listens, he receives reward. This instills essential understanding that his human is the one in charge and can greatly cut down on territorial marking.

3) Wash the areas with the proper product- Clean all marked surfaces with an enzyme neutralizing and deodorizing cleanser.  If a strong smelling solution is used (such as Pine-Sol, etc.) a Maltese may mark the area again to cover that new scent.  Additionally, many types of soapy products often leave behind residual trace amounts of urine; you will not smell it but your Maltese will.  If it remains, it literally marks a dog's target area to repeat the spraying.  Using an enzyme cleanser will eradicate all traces of urine.

4) Change the function of the area
- If your Maltese chooses one particular spot to mark, it can help to change that area into the dog's play area.  You may want to move his toy box and other belongings to the spot which often discourages a puppy from the urge to 'claim' it. Alternatively, you may block access to that area if possible.  Do keep in mind that if other steps are not taken, a puppy or dog may choose another target.
5) Stop the dog in the act - When you are home with your Maltese, keep him/he tethered to you with a leash (and placing a harness on your puppy or dog - not just a collar) so that you can keep a close eye on things.  Some dogs will circle before marking; though others will simply approach an area and lift the leg (seen with females as well as males).

Clapping loudly or shaking a can (put loose coins in a metal jar) are good methods to startle a puppy and curtail the behavior. While the act of marking is not done to empty the bladder, it can be helpful to then bring your Maltese outside to the designated bathroom area to hopefully empty the bladder.  Be sure to offer praise and reward if this is done, even if you had to carry the pup outside to finish and even if he dribbled on the way there.

6) Belly bands for males -
For males, placing a belly band on the dog can be a good deterrent.  When the dog attempts to urinate, the band will absorb the urine. Often dogs find this uncomfortable and will stop marking to avoid the outcome.

7) Allow time for adjustments- If marking is due to a change in the household (new person, new pet, etc.) usually time will help as the Maltese becomes accustomed to the changes.  Following all steps above will help in combating the issue until that time.  Be sure to give the same amount of attention to all pets.  Dogs may feel a need to compete more if not given their own personal spaces.  For this reason, each pet should have their own eating area (separate corners of the kitchen) and own sleeping areas.  Even those that appears to be good friends may feel threatened if the other is too close to food or other belongings such as a bed.

8) Reduce triggers - Some dogs will mark if they see or hear other animals near the house.  Limiting access to windows can often stop marking. 

9) Seek veterinary care - If none of the above methods are working, this is your signal to have your Maltese examined by a veterinarian.  Often health issues such as UTI or weak bladder are silent conditions without any other symptoms.


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