Does your puppy or adult dog sometimes urinate when greeting you or others? Does she do it when you lean over her or talk sternly or even sweet-talk her? Does she do this when greeting or playing with other puppies or dogs? If so, this might be what is called “submissive urination.”
What is it and why does this happen?
First, let’s talk about what it is not. It is most definitely not a housetraining failure. It is unlikely your dog is even aware she is doing it. She definitely has no control over it. It is as likely to occur with a dog that is housetrained as with one who is not. In other words, housetraining has nothing to do with this.
So then, what is it?
Submissive urination is involuntary urination. It is an appeasement gesture, showing you that the dog is of no threat to you. It can also occur when your puppy gets overly excited, such as when playing with you. The good news is that most puppies stop this as they become more confident in their world. It happens mostly with puppies, but sometimes continues into adulthood.
What are the specific triggers that can cause this?
Getting very excited, playing with other puppies or dogs, greeting your puppy, looming over your puppy, direct eye contact, vocalization (especially baby talk or scolding in a stern voice), touching your puppy, and sometimes just approaching your puppy can cause it to happen. It frequently occurs when the owner returns home or visitors to the house greet your pup.
What can I do to manage it?
When greeting your puppy or adult dog: I normally would not recommend ignoring your pup when you return home. However, in this case, do not look directly at your pup, talk to your pup, lean over, or touch your pup. And avoid becoming overly excited yourself when you greet your pup. Without fanfare, call your pup to greet you in a “safe” area, such as outdoors. Alternatively, you can try ignoring her for 10 minutes or so before having a calm greeting. Instruct visitors to ignore her when they first arrive or have your pup greet them outside.
When playing with other puppies and dogs: This will usually resolve as your puppy learns better play skills. Try to find playmates that might not be so intimidating to your puppy.
Refrain from “baby” talk to your pup. But do not use harsh, commanding tones. Talk in a matter-of-fact, calm and normal tone of voice.
Start giving your puppy something else to do. Try this when you arrive home or when a visitor arrives. You could teach her to fetch a toy. Then, when you walk in the door, instruct her to go fetch that toy, keeping her mind on somethhing else. You could also give her a treat or bone. She becomes involved in the pleasurable act of eating and chewing, thus replacing the submissive urination response. An alternative behavior can be helpful for other situations that usually elicit submissive urination.
Have a potty cue. You may find it helpful to teach your pup to eliminate on command to empty your pup’s bladder before “hot times” (such as a visitor’s arrival).
Never scold or punish your puppy for submissive urination. This will frighten and confuse your puppy. It will increase the submissive urination. It will destroy any progress you have made.
How can I help my puppy stop submissively urinating for good?
Helping your puppy or adult dog become more confident is the best way to help her overcome this.
First, be sure to follow the suggestions listed here for management so she is not “practicing” the behavior.
Second, be especially vigilant about not scolding her and not acting disappointed when this happens.
Third, be sure your puppy is getting out in the world and having positive interactions, never scary ones.
Fourth, and so important, is training your puppy. This will instill confidence and help her build self-esteem. Have fun training her to do all kinds of things with rewards-based, non-threatening methods. Teaching tricks is especially helpful.
All this training will build her trust in you. Ongoing training for a less-than-confident puppy is invaluable. The more your puppy knows, the less she will have to worry about. And she will become more confident and comfortable in our world.
And then you can both say goodbye to her submissive urination issue. It is an issue that most definitely can be overcome.
Nancy Weller, CPDT-KA, CTC, has been training puppies, dogs, and their people since she graduated with honors from the San Francisco Academy for Dog Trainers in 2000. After training for 15 years in the San Francisco South Bay area, she relocated her company, Pawsitively Fabulous! LLC, to south Coastal Delaware in 2015. She resides there with her husband, two Bichon Frises, Iniki and Makani, and a Löwchen puppy, Samba, who is keeping them busy.
Main article photo by: Photo by istock/ MirasWonderland