Submissive Urination in Dogs

Just like people, dogs have individual personalities and traits. Those dogs with submissive temperaments are usually good choices for first-time dog owners or families with young children.  Submissive dogs do not present the problems that some dominant personality dogs do.  However, they can exhibit a trait that is a problem to some people.  When approached or looked at by a person or even another dog, some dogs will urinate uncontrollably. This is termed submissive urination.  The submissive wetting dog is not deliberately misbehaving but is responding due to excitement, apprehension, or even fear.  The dog is reacting on an emotional level to something in the situation that produces extreme feelings of submission.  If you appreciate this, you can deal with the problem without getting angry or upset.  Well-controlled emotions are essential for the correction of this behavior.

Cause of submissive urination

Submissive urination has its roots in a puppy’s early experiences with its mother.  The mother is a very dominant figure to a young puppy.  She also controls his elimination for the first several months of his life.  By the time the puppy is several weeks old, the mother is prompting elimination by merely approaching him and nosing under his flank.  Most dogs outgrow this puppy elimination response as they mature, but some dogs retain this response to urinate, particularly under stressful conditions.  When excited, intimidated or fearful, the submissive urinator will resort to the puppy response of emptying his bladder.

Control of submissive urination

First, identify the things that trigger the dog to urinate.  Often it is your homecoming, when you scold the dog, when you lean over the dog or when you approach or face the dog.  The first step is to remove any signs of threat at those key times when the dog wets.  By modifying your behavior, you should be able to get the dog to stop wetting.  The time required will be anywhere from a few days to several months, depending on your skill and the severity of the problem.

If the dog wets when you approach, then do not approach.  Instead, crouch right down and turn your side toward the dog.  Avoid direct eye contact. Let the dog approach you.  If the dog appears calm, pet him lightly under the chin.  If petting produces wetting, try it again in a few days.  Avoid talking to the dog in the situations that produce urination.  As the dog’s confidence builds, you can begin to add words spoken in a gentle, soft tone. Try “good dog”.  After a few days of this routine, ask the dog to “sit” and then tell him “good dog” when he complies.  If this stimulated wetting, withhold it for a few days and then try it again.

Run through the situational training at least several times a day.  For instance, if your homecoming produces submissive urination, follow the above outline described, then go out and come in immediately again…then again. This desensitization should help eliminate the behavior over a period of time.  As the dog gains confidence, see if you can approach him in a standing position instead of a crouch.  Let the dog’s reactions tell you how to behave. If you see that tell-tale squat start in the back, back off a step and start over until you can again proceed.

Involve others in the program.  Have family members or friends go through the same routine as described above.  When several others have gone through it with the dog, it will greatly benefit the permanency of the correction. If backsliding occurs, just start over again at the beginning.  Correction should only take a few sessions.  Throughout the program, be patient and understanding.  Your dog can sense your mood and will react to it accordingly.

Additional tips

  1. Scheduling.  The submissive dog will be more secure when he knows what to expect.  Put him on a regular schedule and stick to it.  Feed and exercise him at the same time every day.
  • Consistency.  Be consistent in your expectations of the dog.  Always treat him fairly.  Make sure everyone in the family does the same.
  • Don’t get angry.  Submissive urination is an involuntary response to fear or excitement.  He’s not “getting even” or trying to annoy anyone.  Being calm and ignoring it works much better than yelling.  Be calm and reassuring but do not baby the dog.  This can cause wetting too.
  • Obedience training.  Once the dog has rudimentary control over his bladder, he will benefit from obedience training.  Call Compatible Companions (254-394-6968) for information on locating a training class to suit you and your dog.

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