Dealing with submissive urination

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Like most dog owners, you probably appreciate an enthusiastic welcome from your canine pal when you come home at the end of a hard day at work.  But your pleasure can be quickly “dampened” if your dog’s wiggles of delight are accompanied by sprinkles or puddles.  And you could be mortified if you have company.  Your dog may have long since graduated from the housebreaking stage with flying colors, but he still may not be able to contain himself in certain instances.  Submissive urination is not a housebreaking issue, but an involuntary reflex that requires patience and specific training methods to correct.

How do you know if your dog has submissive urination?  If your dog fits any of the following criteria, he may have a submissive urination problem:

  • He urinates when he is being scolded.
  • He urinates when someone approaches him.
  • He urinates when he is being greeted.
  • He has a history of being punished long after he has displayed unwanted behaviors.
  • He is a somewhat shy, anxious or timid dog.
  • He urinates while offering submissive postures, such as crouching, tail tucking or rolling over to expose his belly.

Submissive urination is a normal way for dogs and puppies to demonstrate submissive behavior to one another.  It can be offered as the ultimate display of respect for the higher ranking member of the group (you!).  It is often seen in puppies and younger dogs that have not learned other social skills, but when it is seen in adult dogs, it is usually a sign of insecurity and lack of confidence, as well as fear of unpredictable behaviors from their humans.

When dealing with submissive urination, punishment and reprimands will only increase the problem, as the dog will try harder and harder to appease by showing deference in the way it knows best.  Conversely, if your dog wets, and you try to reassure him, you may also be reinforcing the behavior, as the dog may see this as praise for a deed well done.  So, what to do?  Ignore the problem.  That’s right.  When you walk in the door, pretend you have no dog.  Walk in quietly, check your mail and put your things away.  Avoid eye contact.  During this short time, the dog has time to relax a bit and the thrill of seeing you can come down a notch.  When he is relaxed, as him to sit, and quietly greet him.  No excitement, no matter how much you missed him.  If he knows how to “shake hands,” this is a great time to reinforce it as a more appropriate greeting.  Always reward confident postures, such as standing quietly or sitting, and simply walk away from submissive postures, like the belly-up or crouch.  When petting him, pet him under the chin and stroke upward, lifting the head in a proud way, rather the typical top-of-the-head pat.

If at any time, he starts to become excited again, just stand up and walk away without fanfare.  He will soon come to learn that good attention comes to dogs that sit and greet their masters calmly and quietly.  Have all family members practice this calm, relaxed greeting ritual.

When expecting guests, let them know in advance that you are training your dog, and that they should greet the dog only when you let them know it is time.  Having your dog on leash can help bolster his confidence, and allow you to have him in a sit to greet the guests.  Ask them to keep their voices “normal” and avoid the high-pitched baby talk, which is likely to bring on a sudden shower!

Keep practicing, and soon the damp greetings will be a thing of the past.

Cynthia Gordon CPDT-KA is a Victoria Stilwell-Approved Positively Trainer. Check out her website: Gentle Touch Dog Training. Gordon is an AKC Canine Good Citizen Evaluator, APDT Professional Member, Tellington TTouch Practitioner Apprentice Examiner and member of the American Temperament Testing Society.

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