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My Pet World: Dogs may 'look guilty,' but they don’t feel guilty the way humans do

Cathy M. Rosenthal, Tribune Content Agency on

Dear Cathy,

My two-year-old Rottweiler is peeing on and around almost everything in my home for no obvious reason. I have two Rottweilers (both from the same litter), and the other one does nothing of the sort. It's not like he has to pee; he lifts his leg and spritzes on furniture, table legs, carpets, the walls, and even on his own feeding tray.

I've tried "stay away" sprays and blocking him from areas where he does this, but nothing helps. I put him immediately in his crate when he does this, and he knows he's done something wrong. Any suggestions? I'm at my breaking point. He's ruining my home.

— Frances, Elmhurst, New York

Dear Frances,

That "guilty look" is not an admission of guilt as you and I know it, but him reacting solely to your displeasure with him. He is not likely making a connection that he has done anything wrong, only that you’re mad at him.

There are many reasons your dog may be marking.

If your dog is not neutered, he is doing what sexually mature male dogs do. They never quite empty their bladder because they need small bits of urine to continually mark their territory. The urine attracts females and tells other male dogs to stay away. The fact that your other dog is not doing this tells me that the one doing it is the more dominant dog. This behavior generally develops when neutering is delayed until after sexual maturity.

If your dog is neutered, then your dog may be asserting dominance over the other dog in the home. Dogs also may mark territory when they’re anxious, when there is stress in the house, when there is conflict among pets, when there is a new baby or family member, when there is a job loss, or when they can see other animals outside, etc.

So, what can you do? Neuter both dogs right away if they are not already. Neutering after sexual maturity can sometimes reduce marking, depending on how ingrained this habit is for your dog.

Clean offenses with enzymatic cleaners to remove all biologicals and the lingering odor. Continue to use "stay away" sprays.

Remove dirty laundry, shoes, purses, etc., from the floor as these are everyday items that can be targeted.

Resolve stresses between family members or animals if they exist. Doggie calming chews and relaxation videos can help create a calmer environment. You can also use pheromone collars or plug-ins to create a more relaxed setting.

If a new person has moved in, let that person feed, groom, and play with your dog. If it's a new baby, make sure you give your dog lots of attention when the baby is around.

Cover any windows or doors where your dog can see other animals outside. If a dog is frustrated that they can’t get to another animal outside, they may mark in the home.

Train him. Training builds a dog's confidence and reduces anxiety, which can lead to marking.


Finally, restrict access to parts of the home when you can't supervise him. Interrupt him in the act, when possible, by making a loud noise or clapping. Then take him outside and praise and treat him when he urinates.

Dear Cathy,

I read your column about the Basenji who ran around crazily after a bath. My two small dogs used to jump up on my bed or couch after a bath, lie on their backs, and rub themselves vigorously. I wonder if perhaps they were trying to rub a familiar scent on themselves because they didn’t like the smell of the shampoo.

— Judy, Rozet, Wyoming

Dear Judy,

You’re correct! It’s generally thought that dogs run around in circles and roll around on the ground after a bath to get rid of the shampoo scent. Dogs much prefer to smell like grass and dirt and will work quickly to regain their familiar odor. They also may be trying to dry themselves. Either way, rolling on the grass achieves both of those things.

Dear Cathy,

I read about your suggested squirrel deterrents a while back. I had my fig trees attacked so often by squirrels that I built a cage around them.

— Tony, Babylon, New York

Dear Tony,

Thank you for including a photo. For my readers, Tony built a wire enclosure around his four and five-foot fig trees to keep the squirrels away. (You can see the photo at Not sure what happens as these trees grow, but for now, he has humanely bested the squirrels.


(Cathy M. Rosenthal is a longtime animal advocate, author, columnist and pet expert who has more than 25 years in the animal welfare field. Send your pet questions, stories and tips to Please include your name, city, and state. You can follow her @cathymrosenthal.)

©2023 Tribune Content Agency, LLC.




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