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Marking

Maltese Territorial Marking in the House

Overview

It can be frustrating if 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 some cases, peeing indoors on a regular basis can be attributed to marking, which is a behavioral issue. This has nothing to do at all with housebreaking and even the most well-trained dogs may mark.

Here, we will go over:
  • What marking is
  • How to know the difference between marking and not following housebreaking rules
  • Steps you can take to stop a Maltese from marking

Separating Marking from Housebreaking Accidents

#1 Marking is a light spray of urine done to mark territory.

It may be done in just one spot or all over the house, which does add up to a lot of urine inside. However, if your Maltese is emptying his entire bladder, that most likely moves this into a housebreaking issue and not territorial marking. 

Sometimes, but not always, this spray of urine may be targeted on vertical objects inside the house (table legs, etc.).
#2 A dog of either gender may mark. While male dogs get most of the blame, it should be noted that this issue is seen with both male and female dogs.

With a female dog, she may hold up one leg (similar to a male's stance).
#3 Dogs of any age may mark, however very young puppies (2 to 3 months old) will rarely do this. If a new Maltese puppy is peeing a lot inside the house, this also is a clue that it is a house training issue and not marking. 

Territorial marking issues are normally seen with dogs that have reached the age of puberty (4 to 5 months old), and adults of any age may begin marking due to certain triggers. 

#4 Even dogs that are fixed may mark, however they are far less likely to do so. Only about 10% of spayed or neutered dogs develop or continue marking behaviors. 

#5 This is seen more often in multiple-dog or multiple-pet households, though it can occur in single-pet households.

Ruling out Health 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 typically 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 of urinary incontinence, a dog will 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 9 months old but may affect dogs of any age. If your Maltese only sprays out urine when you are just arriving back home or when he 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. 

Reasons for Marking

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.

Marking may also be a sign of 'in-fighting' between two dogs to establish which of the two is the 'Alpha dog'. So, even if it is clear that you are the true leader, dogs may be competing to see which is your second-in-command. 

Perceived threats - Dogs 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. 

Changes to the household - Marking may be 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 an owner.

How to Stop a Maltese from Marking

1) Spay/ neuter

This is the #1 method of stopping a dog of either gender from spraying urine in the house. Once spayed or neutered, about 90% of dogs will stop marking, though 10% will continue. In many cases, the earlier the better, before bad habits are established. 
2) Clearly establish yourself as leader

You know it's your house but a marking dog will keep trying to signal that they want it to be or believes it is his/her house. Even if a dog is unsure and just thinks that he may possibly be the leader, marking behavior may develop. 

For many reasons - including marking - the hierarchy of the house should be clear. Most dogs are better behaved, listen to commands more often, and are much happier once their human takes 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 plays a big role when it comes to establishing leadership and having your Maltese follow this command will make it clear that you are responsible for supplying his food sources. 
  • Humans should enter and exit the house first. Dogs see the house as the 'den', and canine rules dictate that the leader of that territory enters and exits first. 
Many owners mistakenly send the wrong message by attaching the leash and letting the dog scoot out of the house first or by letting the dog dash back inside first. 

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 allowed to follow.
  • Dogs that have very strong marking tendencies should not be allowed to be at the same physical level as their humans, such as sitting on the sofa with them, or sleeping in their owner's bed until the behavior is under control. 
  • 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. 
3) Wash the areas with the proper product

Just using soap and water often is not enough to remove lingering urine odors. Since dogs have a much stronger sense of smell than humans, owners may believe the area to be completely clean, but it may still be sending out a signal that essentially announces, 'This is the bathroom area'. 

And if a strong smelling solution is used (such as Pine-Sol, etc.) a Maltese may mark the area again to cover that new scent. 

Clean all marked surfaces with an enzyme neutralizing and deodorizing cleanser that will eradicate all traces of urine. A good choice is Sunny & Honey's Pet Stain & Odor Miracle Enzyme Cleaner; this works on all types of flooring surfaces including hardwood and carpeting, and is very effective in completely wiping out urine enzymes. 
4) If you have two dogs, choose who will be the alpha dog

If you have two dogs that are marking in competition to see who is the 'Alpha dog', cut this argument short by deciding for them.

Typically, the leader of multiple dogs will be the older one. If dogs are close in age, it will be the male. If both dogs are close in age and are the same gender, it is more difficult to know; however, in these cases it can help to take note of which dog is putting more effort into gaining the title. 

Note that regardless of which dog is the leader, all will be loved the same and being a 'beta' is not a bad thing. In fact, all dogs feel more stressed if this hierarchy ranking is not clear and most feel relieved to follow in an orderly house. 

Once you know which one is the leader of the pack, make this clear by always doing for that dog first. There only needs to be a few seconds of lapsed time; however, the alpha should have his bowl placed down first, his leash attached first, be given a treat first, etc. 
5) Change the function of the area

If your Maltese chooses one particular spot to mark, it can help use the area for something related to the dog such as a new play area. If so, you'll want to move his toy box and other favorite belongs there. 

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.
 
6) Stop the dog in the act

When you are home with your Maltese, keep him tethered to you via harness and leash so that you can keep a close eye on early warning signals. Some dogs will circle before marking; though others will simply approach an area and lift the leg (may be seen with females as well as males).

Clapping loudly, shaking a can (put loose coins in a metal jar), or using a behavioral device that sends out a short hissing noise like the The Company of Animals Pet Corrector are good methods to cause a dog to pause 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. If any urine is released outside, be sure to offer praise and reward, even if you had to carry your Maltese outside to finish and even if he dribbled on the way there.
7) Belly bands for males

For males, placing a belly band (wrap) like Wegreeco's Washable Male Dog Adjustable Wraps in Size Extra Small on the dog can be a good deterrent. When the dog attempts to urinate, the wrap will absorb the urine. Not only does this keep a male from marking, but also many dogs find this uncomfortable and will stop marking to avoid the outcome.

8) 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 appear to be good friends may feel threatened if the other is too close to food or other belongings such as a bed.

9) Reduce triggers

Some dogs will mark if they see or hear other animals near the house. Limiting access to windows may help.
10) Seek veterinary care if none of the above methods are working

If you implement all of these tips and there is no change, this is your signal to have your Maltese examined by a veterinarian. Often health issues such as UTI or weak bladder are often silent conditions without any other symptoms. 
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