Running Away from Home and Marking Territory in Dogs

7 min read

Marking and Roaming Behavior

Dogs communicate with each other in many ways. One of the ways they use is through smell, or scent. Each dog's urine and feces has a unique scent. When dogs urinate or defecate in specific locations (territory marking), they are communicating with other dogs that may come along later. These scented leavings act as messages for other dogs that come along, telling them which dog has been in a specific area, and that this dog has claimed the area as its territory. Dogs first begin this territorial marking behavior as they become mature. For male dogs it takes place around puberty, and for female dogs it takes place around the time they go into heat for the first time. When dogs reach puberty, they also become more likely to stray away from the home. This is called roaming. Dogs will roam to find mates, to explore, and to mark their territory. Dogs that are not spayed or neutered are more likely to roam and mark territory than dogs that have been neutered or spayed.

Symptoms and Types

  • Marking
    • Dog urinates or defecates in a specific area that it has chosen
    • Owner may not approve of the chosen area
    • Can occur on a horizontal surface, such as the ground
    • Can occur on vertical or upright surface, such as a wall or bush
  • Roaming
    • Wandering away from home


  • Can be normal behavior, or may be caused by another disease
  • Change in hormones make dogs more likely to mark and roam
  • Dogs learn marking and roaming behavior from other animals, or through instinctive behavior
  • Marking
    • A need to define a territory
    • A need to communicate with other dogs
    • Bladder infection
    • Anxiety
    • Diarrhea
    • Constipation
    • Diseases of the anal sacs (scent glands near the anus)
  • Roaming
    • A desire to explore territory
    • A need to find a mate (female dog may be in heat, or male dog may be following the scent of a female in heat)
    • A need for to find other dogs to play with
    • A need for more food
    • A need to mark territory
    • Fear (phobia)
    • Separation anxiety


You will need to provide a complete medical and behavioral history leading up to the onset of your dog's marking and roaming behavior. Along with a thorough physical examination, your veterinarian will order the standard tests: a complete blood count, biochemical profile, and urinalysis. These tests will help your doctor to determine whether there is an underlying medical condition, such as a bladder infection, which might be causing your dog's symptoms. Further tests may include a blood thyroid test to make sure that your dog’s thyroid level is normal, and fecal (stool) tests to rule out intestinal parasites or nutritional deficiency.

If the urine analysis shows that your dog has a bladder infection, your veterinarian may order a culture of the urine and x-rays of your dog's bladder. The culture will show exactly what bacteria are causing the bladder infection, and x-ray images will show the presence of bladder stones, or other bladder problems, which might be causing the bladder infection.

If you have a female dog that is not spayed, your veterinarian may also do a vaginal cytology, a lab analysis of the cells in the vagina so that the stage of estrus (heat) she is in can be determined. If all of these tests return normal, your dog will be diagnosed with a behavioral problem.


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