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Ask A Vet: How Do I Get My Dogs to Leave My Baby Alone?

Welcome to our weekly 'Ask a Vet from the SF SPCA' feature on 7x7.com. They've enlisted their Co-President, Dr. Jennifer Scarlett, to answer your questions every week. Got a question for Dr. Scarlett? Ask away in the comments!

Q: My dogs (a Jack Russell and a Dachshund) seem to resent the fact that my baby is walking. They urinate on his crib and Pack-N-Play, on the floor, etc. It is getting to be too much for this mother. What to do?
 
A: Speaking of kids, being housebroken is like being pregnant—either you are or you’re not.  Assuming your dogs were completely housebroken (and not having occasional “accidents”) it sounds like the dogs may be marking (peeing a small amount on a vertical surface) rather than urinating. If they are both male dogs it may be a little difficult to discern.  Keep in mind that unneutered dogs mark more than spayed/neutered dogs so if they’re intact you should make an appointment with a spay/neuter clinic pronto.
 
Marking is the dog version of Foursquare. On walks around the neighborhood, your dog stops every few feet to “read” and respond to messages left behind by other dogs. Outside, this is totally normal behavior. When it happens inside our house, it’s a problem. Marking inside is usually due to change. What’s a little odd about your case is that the marking didn’t start until your baby started walking rather when he/she first came home. I suppose we can theorize that walking is a change enough or perhaps your level of parenting has changed now that your kiddo is mobile. But your question was what to do about it,  so here we go:
 
    •  Be sure your are cleaning the areas where they’re urinating with an enzymatic cleaner, such as Nature’s Miracle® Stain and Odor Remover, to minimize smells that can attract your dog and cause him to mark again.

    • This is a good time to reboot their housetraining skills AND give you a break.  Implement crate training or confining them to an area.  At the very least - restrict their access to the baby’s room and give your patience a break.

    • If you see your dog start (the sniffing and moving into position part) to mark, you can try clapping loudly or calling to him to interrupt the process. It’s very important to deliver these vocal/startle punishments while your dog is caught in the act of urine marking.  Physical punishment and excessive scolding probably won’t help and if the marking is due to anxiety it may make it worse.  Punishing a dog AFTER the marking has happened is totally useless – they have no idea what they are supposed to be associating the punishment with, so just don’t do it.

    • Time. Naturally, your time is limited but try to give your dogs time with you. Doing some basic obedience work with them is another way to re-engage and reinforce your bond.
    •  Exercise always helps and is the cornerstone to decreasing anxiety.  If you no longer have the time or energy to take them out consider hiring a dog walker.

I hope this helps. We have some additional information on house breaking as well as dog-baby safety that you are welcome to view here.  Good Luck!

While we can’t answer all of the questions here, please feel free to ask us during our Friday Twitter Ask the Vet Chat. If your animal’s problem is of an immediate nature, please call your vet or you can reach the SF SPCA at 415-554-3030 to make an appointment.