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Submissive Urination in Dogs

Although any dog can exhibit submissive urination, it is most common in puppies and particularly in female puppies (under 1 year old) and the small/tiny breeds. Pups who have a more submissive nature, are anxious or nervous, or lack self-confidence are also very likely to behave this way. Most puppies eventually grow out of this behavior, especially when their owners understand it and approach it correctly.

It's very important to understand that a dog with submissive urination isn't being 'bad' or disobedient, or urinating because he needs a potty break. This type of urination is a deep-seated and instinctive action that stems from basic canine interaction and behavior. In the 'dog world', this type of behavior is completely normal and understood by all parties, but in the human world it is often a sort of 'miscommunication' and is totally misunderstood. A dog will often urinate submissively when greeted by, or in the presence of, the dominant dog of the pack. It is a very obvious way of showing respect to a higher-ranking pack member, and a gesture of submission. Dogs understand this, but more often than not, humans don't!

Helping a Dog with Submissive Urination Issues
Unfortunately a normal human response to submissive urination in dogs is often one of irritation, annoyance, frustration or even anger! If your Persian rug happens to be what your pup is standing on when she greets you submissively, then your reaction is perfectly understandable to another human, but not to your dog. From her perspective, she has just shown you (in no uncertain terms) that she's completely submissive to you and recognizes and accepts your authority - and she expects you to be satisfied with that. When you react in frustration (even if it's mild), or worse yet in anger, she is totally devastated and thinks that she hasn't been submissive ENOUGH. The result of her conclusion is pretty obvious - more urination! It is miscommunication at its worst.

From this scenario, you can see how important it is to approach submissive urination from the canine perspective. DO NOT ever get angry with your puppy or shout/scold or punish her for this behavior. It will absolutely not work and will most likely make the situation worse. Instead you need to prepare yourself with some dog training for submissive urination tips and techniques. The approach to dog training for submissive urination problems is a two-fold approach. First, reduce the number of situations that cause your pup to react in this way, and second, resist the urge to 'correct' the behavior and ignore it instead.

A puppy or dog with submissive urination problems is most likely to exhibit them in certain situations. These are usually when she believes that she is being 'threatened' by a more dominant pack member, is greeting those who rank more highly in the pack than she does, or when she's excited, fearful or especially anxious. The types of situations that trigger submissive urination in dogs often include:

  • The homecoming of family (pack) members
  • Greeting strangers
  • When someone is reaching over her head to pet her
  • When someone is making direct eye contact with her
  • When voices are raised in anger, or even excitement
  • When someone is leaning over her

These are just some of the times that your pup may instinctively urinate in submission. They can vary somewhat from dog to dog and even change as your dog matures and grows. Luckily once you recognize what is going on, you're going to be in a position to help your pup overcome this behavior.

Managing a Dog with Submissive Urination
We use the term 'managing' rather than 'curing' because being successful in reducing this sort of behavior really depends on how you handle (or 'manage') the episodes of urination. Scolding or punishing your pup for this behavior is counter-productive. The best approach is to try to avoid the situations or gestures that trigger submissive urination, plan ahead to reduce the 'damage' (i.e. wet carpets) it causes, and then treat the whole thing in a calm way and ignore it as much as possible.

An example of this in action would be to confine your pup to a room with an easy-clean floor and a baby-gate at the door while you are out. When you come home, don't greet your pup right away, move around the house for a few minutes without making eye contact or talking to her. Then enter the room she is in and crouch down beside her and say 'hello' calmly and quietly, petting her under her chin.

For a dog with submissive urination problems, a heightened emotional environment of any kind (whether from excitement, anger, tension etc.) is likely to cause her to urinate. Keeping the overall 'tone' in your home low-key and relaxed can go a long way towards reducing the severity and frequency of the problem. Work hard at interacting with your pup in a quiet, non-threatening way and bear in mind that her perception of your actions may be quite different from your intent. For example, direct eye contact, reaching over her head to pet her, or standing directly over her are all potentially dominant actions in the canine world, and she will likely see them this way. This is why these behaviors often trigger involuntary submissive urination in susceptible pups/dogs.

A pup who is a 'submissive urinator' is often a bit shy or anxious, has a submissive personality and may lack self-confidence. Helping her to be successful in basic manners and obedience training and giving her plenty of socialization helps to build self-confidence, which in turn combats her overly-submissive behavior. Do make sure that any training you do is of the positive, rewards-based variety, and go out of your way to help her to feel successful. Always end a training session on a positive note and go at her pace so that she doesn't feel stressed and anxious.

To Recap...

  • If your pup has submissive urination problems, this is not a house breaking or discipline issue. It is a reflex action that she has no control over.
  • Punishing her or showing anger or frustration will only make dog submissive urination problems worse.
  • Avoid emotional situations or environments as much as possible; keep your home and behavior calm and even.
  • Avoid actions that she may perceive as threatening - such as a raised voice, 'looming' posture, or direct/challenging eye contact.
  • Try to minimize the damage this causes, and ignore it as far as is possible.
  • Help build self-confidence in your puppy with training and socialization.

Take comfort in the fact that most puppies do grow out of this behavior, and if you follow the advice above, you have the best possible chance of helping your pup overcome submissive urination.

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