Why do dogs mark their territory?

Cute dog

Have you ever wondered why your dog is rubbing their face against the side of your sofa? It might seem like odd behaviour, but there’s a reason behind their actions; it’s often as simple as them marking their territory, but can also be a sign of health problems. Rubbing themselves on other people or items is a common pet behaviour for both cats and dogs, who can become obsessed with rubbing their face on you as well as your furniture and carpets in the home, or on more revolting items like animal remains or deposits when out and about.

Motivation for nose rubbing

Dogs are motivated by smells, so this could well be the reason behind your dog’s behaviour. If they find a smell they like, such as your laundry bag or even a cow pat, they’ll rub themselves against it to pick up the smell. The reverse can also be true when this behaviour is observed nearer home – your dog could also be leaving their smell around the house to mark their territory.

Another common reason for dogs rubbing their faces is to clean themselves. When they’ve been exploring, your dog can pick up all manner of things on their whiskers or fur, such as grass, seeds or burrs. These can be irritating, so your dog will rub against the carpet or furniture to get rid of any unwanted hitchhikers. If you’ve got a particularly messy eater, it may just be food that’s stuck to their whiskers or fur and they need a helping hand cleaning up. Their paws aren’t quite as effective as our hands when it comes to cleaning so step in and help them out if you feel they’re struggling to clean themselves

White colored dog

A dog marking could be a sign of health issues.

Rubbing could also be an indication of an allergy or infection, causing your dog to rub to relieve their itch; if it isn’t normal behaviour to rub their nose, but they keep doing so, an environmental allergen may be at play. They could be allergic to something in their food or surroundings, or their rubbing could be a sign of fleas – take a regular look for ticks or fleas, to ensure there’s no infestation that could be easily treated to relieve their discomfort. If your dog doesn’t usually rub his face, take him to the vet to check out any potential allergies or infections.

Irritants include grasses, weeds and pollens, lawn products, housedust mites – it can even be something in your dog’s diet that’s causing their discomfort. Severe reactions can even cause breathing difficulties and shock so do watch out for signs of unusual behaviour.

Some dogs suffer irritation by the nature of their breed. For example, dogs with wrinkly skin such as Pugs, Bulldogs or Pekingese are more likely to suffer with skin fold dermatitis, often caused by bacterial and/or yeast infections, which can leave them with moist reddened skin that has a discharge, often with a foul smell. By giving them a hand cleaning using a medicated skin cleanser, it may be enough to clear this up. However, there may be a need for other medications – your vet is best placed to advise on such conditions.

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