Why Do Female Dogs Mark Their Territory?


Why Do Female Dogs Mark Their Territory?When I think about dogs marking their territory, the first image that comes to mind is a male dog hiking his leg and relieving himself on every bush, pole or fire hydrant he comes across. I never associated urine marking with female dogs until Haley started doing it a few years ago. It’s common for intact males or unspayed females to mark their territory to advertise their availability for mating (think Tinder for dogs ), but since Haley was spayed at a young age, it seems strange that she would start this habit later in life.

When she was younger, Haley might stop one time while on a walk to relieve herself but now she stops many times to sniff, pee a little and leave her “Haley Was Here” message to others. She also watches at the front window, keeping a close eye on her yard for any neighborhood canine intruders that might step onto the lawn. After they pass, she can’t wait to go outside to repair her invisible scent fence along the boundary of the yard. It’s amusing to watch because she’ll sniff the ground where they walked, glance down the street at them, then pee to cover their scent. She’s not exactly Clint Eastwood in Gran Torino, but she is saying “Get off my lawn!” in her own way.

While hiking, I’ve seen Haley do the two step, walking while squatting routine on another dog’s scent and I’ve even seen her attempt to pee on a tree which is quite funny since she’s not a leg lifter. I know dogs are territorial and marking is a way of denoting their boundaries but I’m curious why she started doing this later in life. Here are a couple of theories I’ve come across.

Theories for Why Female Dogs Mark Their Territory

Claiming Territory or Possessions
This theory makes a lot of sense and we humans can relate to marking our territory too, like when we write our names on things or decorate our spaces. It reminds me of those battles over territory between Jim and Dwight on the sitcom “The Office”.

Since dogs lack opposable thumbs or staplers and pencils, they must rely on using their body language, barking or marking with urine or poop. Yep, some dogs actually poop on things to leave their scent. Yikes! I’m thankful Haley only feels compelled to mark her boundaries outside of the house. She has her favorite spots to mark, like the grassy median strip at the entrance to our neighborhood and I get the impression she thinks that area belongs to her since she reclaims it each time we go for a walk.

Insecurity or Anxiety
Dogs that are insecure or anxious may mark their territory when another dog or person seems to be encroaching on their space and their territory is threatened. Usually the marking is done outside, but it’s not uncommon for an insecure dog to mark inside the house when a new person, baby or dog comes into the family home. Haley was a fearful dog when she was younger, but she’s come a long way in gaining confidence over the years. I don’t think she’s marking outside because of insecurity because I think she would have done that when she young younger and more fearful.

Dogs gather a lot of information from the pheromones found in other dog’s urine markings such as identity, gender, age, social status and whether a dog has been spayed, neutered or is in season. The dominance theory suggests dogs mark as a way to display dominance and make a statement about their social status, with more dominant dogs only peeing over or beside the scent of lower ranking dogs. That’s an interesting theory that might explain why Haley sniffs many scents but only marks some of them while leaving others alone.

Female dogs produce a small amount of testosterone and some people believe that females with a higher than normal level of the hormone are more likely to mark their territory. I guess that’s a possibility but I’m not sure if Haley’s testosterone level would have increased as she got older.

Smiling Senior Dog

You got pee-mail!

If I were to make a guess, I would say Haley’s probably claiming territory but maybe her pee-mail is just a way of announcing her presence to the outside world. Either way, it’s hard not to think about her acting more like a male dog when she’s leaving her mark all over town. If you want to learn more about canine scent marking, check out Dr. Karen Becker’s article What Do Your Dog’s Urination Rituals Really Mean?

Do you have a spayed, female dog that marks her territory? What’s your theory?

64 Comments on “Why Do Female Dogs Mark Their Territory?”

    • Katie and I have always marked, Bailie is just now starting…a later starter I guess. We recently saw a behaviorist and her thought is that it isn’t so much dominance but rather leaving a message to others that it is your area, and peeing over it gives a dog that last word feeling.

    • Barley has turned into a leg-lifter in the last couple years. It’s so weird–I’d never seen a female dog do that before, but Barley likes to prove to me that nothing I thought I knew about dogs was actually true. I’m not sure why she’s started lifting her leg, but she’ll mark on anything that she thinks smells interesting–trees, light posts, rocks, fire hydrants–so I assume it’s just a communication method. Her aim isn’t great, but her balance on 3 legs is improving!

      • That’s so interesting, Beth. I’ve heard of female dogs lifting their legs and male dogs squatting to pee, but I’ve never seen a female leg lifter in action either. Barley sounds hilarious! You’ll have to video her and put it on Instagram or YouTube, haha!

        • Hershey is a “squat-lifter” especially at the dog park. She’ll hunker down like you would think is normal for a female dog, then she lifts her right leg while STILL squatting and then does her thing! It’s hysterical.

    • Dante is terrible about marking, everything!! I’ve actually been working on teaching him not to, it was getting pretty ridiculous and I hate being ignored while he leaves his peemail everywhere.
      Ziva doesn’t do it, but our former foster a female border collie certainly liked to mark while we were out walking. 🙂

      • Dante reminds me of a dog that I once followed while walking in our neighborhood. His owner stopped at every single mailbox so his dog could mark them. I was amazed at his pup’s diligence and bladder control, lol! ?

    • Sinead is the female dog around here, and she really doesn’t care about marking. But her brother the pug sure does. He’ll race right over to try to mark the spot where she just peed, even if she is still in the midst of the process! So now she sort of walks while peeing, so she can get out of the way if he comes running.

      Jean from Welcome to the Menagerie

    • Oh my goodness the Office clips are the best!! We love The Office and Jim and Dwight are the best. Cocoa likes to leave her mark especially on the trail when she smells something interesting.

    • Sydney does it for dominance. She waits until Zoey pees and then she pees on top. She does this to random pees when we’re out on a walk. I think it’s hilarious.

      She sometimes tries to mount Zoey. She’s doesn’t have it down so she mostly stands really close and moves her butt. I ask her to stop and she does. Zoey’s not a fan.

      • That’s interesting that your parent’s female dog marks constantly. I’m curious about which of all the dogs seem to be the most dominant if you ever get all the pups together.

    • Haha. Tinder for dogs… Too funny. And we miss The Office too!

      Our spayed beagle Bailey would mark a lot! I think it might have been a dominance thing with her. She thought she was “all that”! Rita does it too, but with her I think it’s more just corresponding w/ the pooches in the ‘hood. I’ve noticed she doesn’t do it when we are hiking (where there would be less marking by other dogs) so it’s definitely related to the other pee-mail messages!

      • I’m so glad you shared that observation, Jackie. It made me realize that Haley doesn’t mark as much on trails that aren’t used by many people or dogs either. Hmmm, interesting!

    • So interesting! My dogs pee a lot on walks too, like they’re spreading it all around. I think it’s communication with them since its not their territory in the park 2 miles from home.
      Love & biscuits,
      Dogs Luv Us and We Luv Them

    • I actually get quite a kick over seeing all the dogs mark over one another at my mom’s house when we’re pet/house sitting for her when she’s away. Every one of them will pee over the last dog and sure enough, the last one coming in from the yard is sure to always hit that one sweet spot where everyone is peeing.
      Our boys mark A LOT, which you can see, as there’s usually not much pee that comes out. Gotta love having male dogs – they’ll try and lift their leg 743 times on a walk. 🙂

      • I would crack up watching your Mom’s dogs overmark each other, haha! I’m wondering if the one that starts the routine tries to also be the last one to come inside.

    • Delilah does everything Haley does and she lifts her leg as well. It’s hysterical for me to watch my female dog lift her leg and pee on a tree.

      For my dogs I feel like it’s a marking their territory trait too. I watch how they sniff and where they go. They are 10 times more likely to go on the lawn of a house that has dogs. I’ve also seen Delilah poop or pee in front of a dog in its yard. Of course, we are on the other side of the street, but often times she stays right in their line of vision and does her business.

      • I had to laugh at the thought of Delilah hiking her leg and pooping in front of other dogs from across the street. I’m guessing the ultimate insult would be when a dog poops right in front of another dog in their own yard.

    • What an interesting topic, Elaine!

      Buzz is definitely my master-marker out of the two pups 😉 The dominance theory is interesting and sounds plausible – he’ll only pee over certain spots, and leave others alone (well, sniffing them first, but then moving on without having left his scent).

      Missy only marks every now & then.

      • I think Missy’s decided to leave the marking job to Buzz, lol! That’s hard work, hiking your leg on every bush and fire hydrant.

      • You probably have to be very patient when walking all three of them at the same time, lol! Lots of stopping, sniffing and marking. ?

    • My dog definitely learned it from a friend’s female dog, who came to our house to visit and marked up our whole lawn for hours. Since then the tradition has been passed on to my clients’ dogs. As for “why” my guess might that they think it’s cool. B) Or just that they thought it was a good idea. That’s my best guess for why your Haley didn’t start until later in life — maybe she just hadn’t been inspired yet.

    • Great post! I think there are a lot of people that don’t realize female dogs also mark.

      I wanted to say I hope Haley is doing OK. I just saw your comment over on Jana’s blog. Sending her my well wishes.

      • Thanks for sending your good thoughts, Lindsay. She’s actually in surgery while I’m typing this and the house is really quiet and empty without her here. We get to pick her up later today and I’m sure she’ll be happy to get back home.

    • We may never know for sure until someone invents a brain imaging machine that works on dogs while they’re walking around.

      I had a female dog who not only marked but lifted her leg to do it. I’m guessing the dominance idea was in charge since she was trying to mark with urine as high as possible.

      • Chasing Dog Tales

        I’ve never seen a female dog hike their leg, but it sounds like pretty common behavior.

        Wouldn’t it be great to actually know what dogs are thinking and dreaming about? I have a feeling that one day soon, someone will perfect that technology. I have to admit, there are random occasions when it looks like Haley might be giving me a dirty look, so maybe I don’t really want to know. ?

    • I wrote about this too – Matilda lifts her leg! She’s not as thorough as boys are, but when we’re walking in new places, she just has to leave her mark. In fact, there’s a specific tree across the street that she always runs to, I think it’s very popular with other dogs around here.

    • My 13 year old spayed dashound, just started leaving small pee marks all over the house when we adopted a 5 year old Basset hound 😱. Any advice ?

      • Chasing Dog Tales

        Oh no, that’s got to be really frustrating.😬 Your dachshund is probably feeling a little insecure or threatened by the new addition to your family. Here are some great tips by Dog’s Naturally Magazine that should help!

        Hopefully your dachshund will adjust soon to the change in your house and things will be back to normal. If you think this could possibly be a medical issue, an appointment with your vet might be in order. Good luck and hang in there!😊

    • My girl follows around a male 25lbs bigger who has not been neutered. Every single time he pees to mark, she squats and pees right after him. Maybe she’s claiming HIM?! Like a boyfriend?!

    • I also have a female spayed dog (she’s 6 and was spayed when she was 8-months-old), and as a bull terrier, she has a lot of skin conditions, some of which are treatable with corticosteroids. Whenever she’s on her meds, I notice that she pees more than usual, as she also gets thirstier.

    • My recently rescued female dog (spayed) is a leg lifting marker. I think this is due to her previous life and having to protect her territory which was a factory yard and the fact we have only had her 4 weeks and she is still unsure and anxious. Only does it outside which is a blessing.

    • My new 6 year old rescue dog lifts her leg to mark her area but don’t come close to hitting it. I never seen it before. she is spayed and extremely skittish but after 2.5 months is doing better.

    • I have a small dog that I sit for (mixed breed, but looks a lot like a terrier and about the same size), in all the 55 years of my life, I have never seen a female dog take such an interest in smelling all the pee-mail left by other dogs, then adding her own scent to several of them (but not all). She starts out in the traditional squat holding her bottom low to the ground, but as she pees her rear end lifts up until both her back legs are in the air, and she begins walking forward on her front legs as she continues to pee. It is the most ridiculous thing I have ever seen!

    • My female is about 3 and Red heeler mix. She not only mark her area with pee she also Scratch the Ground After she Pee or Poop. Not in her yard but when we go for a walk.

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