How to stop your dog marking his territory and cocking his leg in other people’s houses

Ben Randall on how to handle one of the most embarrassing moments for a dog owner.

A lot of my clients come to me saying how their dogs are so well behaved, listen well, and do as they’re told — but only with the owner themselves. When other people are involved they might play up — and that’s something which has happened to our reader this week, who wrote in with this problem:

Dear Ben, I’ve got a problem with my young dog: he’s incredibly well behaved with me, and perfectly toilet trained, but whenever he goes to stay at someone else’s house he immediately starts marking his territory. I don’t understand what’s happening since he never does it at home, but if he’s with a dog minder or family member while I’m working away, he cocks his leg on any dog beds in his new environment. The one good thing is that it’s only ever on dog beds, and never on any human furniture that’s around — but it’s still something I really need to get on top of. Can you help? — F.L., via email to

This is something that I’ve  come across time and again, both in my BG (Beggarbush) training and at our kennels. While it can be tricky to diagnose a problem like this without seeing both you and the dog in person, when a dog plays up with other people it usually means that they’re not doing what I’d want, to the standard that I would want.

In this case, I’d imagine your dog is quite a dominant dog, in terms of scenting in and around the garden, or out on walks. Normally I see this in a dog that needs more engagement, training and connection with its owner, especially out and about. A dog with too much freedom to sniff and scent, rather than being kept stimulated while out on walks with games and so on, gets used to sniffing and scenting — and once that pattern is established, it’s hard to stop. The dog has become too dominant and reliant on itself.

You might wonder why I’m mentioning marking territory while out on walks, but actually when you take your dog to a new environment — whether family, friend or dog sitter — your dog sees it the same way. He’s going in there and thinking, ah, a new place, I need to smell, sniff and scent just as I do when I’m not at home. I need to put my scent around and stamp my presence in this new area where other dogs have been.

So what can we do to improve this? These steps should help.

1. Keep your dog engaged with you as much as possible

At the moment at home I have one dog in a kennel that’s otherwise full of bitches. Every time I’m with this dog, other than going to the toilet, I engage with him: I work on his training at feeding time, his obedience, his retrieving, everything, and I know that the dog is truly engaged with me, so that even when I introduce other dogs I still have that great connection and respect.

But it needs maintenance. If I were to let the dog and my bitches run free too much, before long he’d be sniffing, scenting and cocking his leg too, and his recall would get worse too. I call this farm dog behaviour: a dog with too much freedom and time on its hands will see sniffing and scenting become a habit. By keeping him engaged with you as much as possible, on walks and elsewhere, you can stop that pattern developing.

2. Establish a firm new routine when you go to a different house

There’s a possible practical side to this problem, in that after the drive to the dog-sitter’s house, your pet might actually find himself needing the toilet, which is only going to make cocking his leg seem more tempting. So let’s pre-empt that and build it in to the new routine: don’t come in to the new house with your dog and immediately have a cup of tea and a chat with whoever is taking care of him for you. Instead, set a pattern: arrive, brief greeting, immediately take him to the garden on a lead, and give him the toilet command. When he comes back in, calmly reward him with praise and perhaps some kibble, and take him to be put in a dog bed, crate, play pen or other enclosed environment.

Next time the dog is let out of this area, make sure his carer takes him to the toilet again, using the same routine; the dog will start to see that when he goes out to the loo and comes back in, it’s time to go into relax mode.

3. Slowly start to give the dog more freedom

Once the dog has learnt new behaviour, he can be let out of the crate or play pen. When this phase begins, ideally you would stick around for a while at the carer’s house and keep a very close eye on any negative behaviour restarting, being ready with a confident ‘leave’ command should he look like he’s about to start cocking a leg. If it happens, give a sharp, verbal ‘leave’, then get him to walk to heel, take him out for wee, and give him praise and a reward. Only once you’re confident the pattern is broken can you leave the dog unsupervised in the other house.

4. Make sure your dog’s carer is engaged in the process too

Part and parcel of this is that the person caring for the dog needs to be able to know what to expect, and how to react to your dog’s behaviour. It’s something I know all too well: as many of you know, I run a luxury boarding kennels in Herefordshire and when a client comes to me to look after their dog, I make an effort to get all the information I need, including commands and behaviour issues. I set a plan for feeding, exercising and toileting each dog, whether they’re staying for a weekend or are with me for a month. It can take a day or so for the routine to settle in, but it’s incredible how quickly they learn to respond to people other than their owners — it’s almost as if for the period they’re with me, they become my dogs. And the carers who are looking after your pet will be best-placed to do so if they can get that same feeling too.

Ben Randall’s book, ‘How to Train Your Gundog’, is out now. You can order it here at £40.

For more detailed advice about Ben Randall’s positive, reward-based and proven BG training methods, one-to-one training sessions, residential training or five-star dog-boarding at his BGHQ in Herefordshire, telephone 01531 670960 or visit For a free seven-day trial of the Gundog app, which costs £24.99 a month or £249.99 a year, visit

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