How To Stop Dogs from Marking Their Territory in Your Yard

What's the common woe in almost every neighborhood? Dogs marking on lawns. Here's how to stop dogs from marking territory in your yard.

Whether you own a dog or not, dog pee can find its way into your yard and kill your grass. Dog urine is a combination of lactic acid and urea. Interestingly, urea is valued in fertilizer for its high concentration of nitrogen. But too much nitrogen will fry your luscious greenery to a crisp.

“I have two female dogs, so I have firsthand experience [with burnt grass],” says Jim Baird, Ph.D., a turfgrass specialist at the University of California, Riverside.

Theoretically, he says, opting for a grass species that utilizes rhizomes (underground stems) and stolons (above-ground runners or lateral stems) should allow for quicker recovery from urine spraying. But if you’re like Baird, whose pups mark the same spot again and again, we have some tips.

Here’s why dogs mark their territory and how to stop them from doing it in your yard, according to canine experts.

Why Are Dogs Marking in My Yard?

“Marking is natural behavior and a form of communication for both male and female dogs,” says Dr. Annette Louviere, data and veterinary genetics manager at Wisdom Panel.

Marking and peeing are both forms of urinating. But instead of relieving themselves, Louviere says dogs mark “as a way to let others know they are present and to demonstrate ownership.” Dogs typically mark where another dog has been or urinated previously.

Intact dogs are more likely to mark than spayed or neutered dogs, but pups that began marking before being fixed can continue the behavior.

Usually, you’ll recognize a dog is marking versus peeing if they’re going on a vertical surface with their leg raised. But this isn’t a hard rule. Dogs will sometimes mark on a horizontal surface and may or may not have their leg lifted, Louviere says.

If a dog is marking in your yard, it’s probably in small quantities. And there are ways to discourage the behavior without feuding with the neighbors. Find out why dogs are scared of fireworks.

How To Stop a Dog from Marking in Your Yard

Here are seven actions you can take to stop dogs from marking:

Restrict access

Keep them out with a decorative fence. We can’t guarantee a passing pup won’t mark your fence, so line it with gravel or mulch instead of vegetation.

For a temporary solution that’s also budget-friendly, try installing a DIY fence around the previously marked areas. For a natural dog barrier, pick up some prickly plants at a nursery or create a thorny barrier with rosebush, Hawthorne or blackberry clippings.

Change fertilizers

If you’re using an animal-based fertilizer, consider swapping it for a plant-based fertilizer.

Bone meal fertilizer is popular with gardeners cultivating colorful blossoms and fruit. It’s made from the ground-up bones of animals, a common ingredient in all-purpose organic fertilizers. While great for your blooms, the smell of its core ingredient could attract dogs to your yard.

Clean the area

Where one dog marks, you’re bound to see another marking the same spot. That’s because, Louviere says, “urine marking is a form of messaging. The dog may be communicating with other dogs that may have urinated or marked in the yard.”

According to Baird, spraying down the spot with a hose immediately following the marking can distribute the high concentrations of acids, salts and nitrogen, lessening the severity of the brown spot.

But hosing it down probably won’t eliminate the scent and discourage other dogs from marking in the same location, Louviere says. Instead, when feasible, treat the area or objects with an enzymatic cleaner.

Use dog repellents

Homemade repellents for dogs range from spicy peppers to a vinegar and citrus solution. While budget-friendly and easy to apply, they come with some downsides — only temporary effectiveness, increased likelihood of attracting other pests, and possibly harming the lawn you’re trying to save.

You’ll find some commercial dog repellents, and even high-tech gadgets dispensing ultrasonic sound to keep pups and other pests away. However, they come with mediocre or poor user reviews.

Avoid placing new items in your yard

New or novel objects left lying in your yard are prime attractants for a curious pup. Keep your yard free of objects to deter neighborhood dogs from stopping, sniffing and marking their territory.

Work with your neighbors

For a direct approach, talk with your neighbors about your concerns. They may not realize the impact their pup has on your lawn, or the effort you’ve put into maintaining your lawn.

Aim for a friendly conversation and let your neighbor know if you use fertilizers, pesticides or insecticides that aren’t pet-friendly. Plus, you might have plants that are toxic to dogs. If your neighbor needs a gentle reminder, aesthetically pleasing yard signs can send the message.

Replace the grass with mulch or gravel

“Remember that marking is a natural behavior for dogs,” says Louviere. “As with all things when dealing with our pets, it’s necessary to set appropriate expectations for ourselves. And in the great outdoors, it’s not practical to think you can stop all dogs’ marking behaviors.”

If you can’t stop the marking, you may need to remove the accessible grass and replace it with a lawn alternative like mulch, gravel or artificial grass.

When It’s Your Dog Marking in the Yard

First, determine whether your dog is marking territory or just urinating often. While marking doesn’t warrant a trip to the vet, urinary issues do.

“If your dog urinates more than once per outing and cannot hold it for more than two hours, a complete urinalysis is recommended,” says Kristyn Echterling-Savage, Ph.D., owner and and CEO of Beyond the Dog. “Most dogs with a medical concern related to urinating also struggle with house soiling.”

Interrupt the marking behavior

When you spot your dog marking, interrupt them with a toy, treat or training cue. Then, Echterling-Savage says, reward them for urinating in a spot you prefer. Avoid punishing your dog for marking behaviors. It could cause confusion about urinating outdoors or exacerbate potty-time stress.

Spay or neuter your dog

Intact male dogs are more likely to mark if there’s a female dog in heat nearby. Likewise, a female dog is more likely to mark when in heat. Best to spay or neutering your dog before marking behavior occurs.

Janelle Leeson
Janelle Leeson began writing in 2020 as a passion project for sharing how and where to travel with cats. She quickly realized her decade-long career as a biologist felt muted compared to the insistent curiosity that came with content writing and reporting. So Janelle stopped writing about endangered species and started writing more about pets. Since then, she's covered domestic pet behavior and health, first-hand product reviews, and e-commerce roundups for outlets including Rover, Paw Print, Fetch by the Dodo and more. She lives in Portland, Oregon, with her husband, two adventure cats and a flock of urban hens.