If your dog pees a little bit when he’s greeting someone or when he’s in trouble, or especially if he rolls over on his back and pees, we’ve got some news for you: It isn’t a housebreaking problem. The end result is the same – pee on your floor (or maybe your feet!) – but even perfectly housebroken dogs can have submissive urination problems.
Submissive and/or excited urination is an involuntary behavior. Your dog isn’t making a conscious decision to pee; he may not even know that he is peeing, which is why most owners’ efforts to correct the problem fail. When he wets in response to interaction with a person, it’s his way of showing submission and telling the person “I know you’re the boss.” Not exactly the way we’d like him to get his message across, but his instincts tell him that this submissive routine is very flattering to others, so he uses it during exciting or intimidating interactions.
Submissive and excited peeing is common in young puppies and in shy, sensitive, insecure dogs. Some breeds – including Cocker Spaniels, Golden Retrievers and Dachshunds – are especially prone to this behavior, but it can occur with dogs of any breed. Many puppies grow out of submissive urination as they get older and develop better bladder control, but for some dogs, the problem continues into adulthood or even develops at a later age.
This behavior can be one of the more frustrating problems to fix, since corrections will intimidate the dog, making him feel even more submissive. Soothing your dog to make him feel better generally doesn’t help, either, because your dog will tend to interpret sweet talk and petting as praise. This only serves to reinforce his overly excited state of mind and makes greetings and other interactions even more emotionally overwhelming for him.
If your puppy seems to have a submissive urination problem, have him examined by your vet to be sure that the problem is behavioral. Urinary tract infections and other medical problems can cause frequent little tinkles that can be mistaken for submissive urinating, so make sure to get a clean bill of health before making any efforts to fix the problem.
Once your dog has a clean bill of health from the vet, you can start making some changes that will help to build your dog’s confidence and make him less likely to sprinkle. The goal for this training is to eliminate all of the triggers that cause your puppy to lose control. Submissive urination is an involuntary behavior, so all we can really do is control your dog’s mood and stimulation level and keep that bladder empty. If you can control the dog’s environment for a period of months, you should see a dramatic decrease in the number of sprinkles. Once he’s out of the habit, you may be able to gradually pay less attention to these triggers – or you may find that it’s something you have to manage to some degree for the rest of his life. Either way, knowing how to prevent the problem makes life easier for everyone.
The first step is to make a chart of all the times your dog sprinkles and what was happening right as he did it. This should let you start to see his patterns. Once you know when to be careful, your training program will be much easier to plan and manage. Another great thing about a chart is that you’ll be able to track your puppy’s progress. Submissive urination tends to respond slowly and steadily to training. Without seeing the number of sprinkles, it can be easy to miss your dog’s progress and focus on the mishaps instead of the success. So keep that chart updated and check each week against the previous week. You should be able to see the gradual reduction in episodes – and then you can reward yourself, your family and friends, and – of course – your hard-working dog.
Most submissive urinators are especially sensitive to people’s body language and vocal tones. Loud, angry voices and happy, squeaky voices both act as triggers. Likewise, imposing body movements and exciting movements can create bladder control problems.
Try to move calmly and slowly around the dog, especially in situations where he’s already excited. Absolutely avoid any grabbing movements or positions where you tower over your puppy. Many people naturally pet a dog by bending over the top of them and reaching for the head or sides for a nice pat or scratch. But for sensitive dogs this position makes them look up at a person who’s huge and towering, making them feel small and vulnerable. Imagine how you’d feel shaking hands with a person who was three times your size – you might just pee on yourself a little bit too!
Instead of bending over, try crouching or sitting with your body slightly sideways to your dog. In this position, the greeting isn’t so overwhelming and your puppy gets to make the overture by coming closer to get attention. When you do stand up to walk around, try looking past the dog instead of directly at him and walk to his side instead of straight to his front. These subtle changes make an amazing difference for most dogs.
Try to convince all family members and visitors to follow these same rules of engagement. The calm greeting thing can be hardest for kids, who just can’t seem to help themselves from squealing with glee when they get home after school and see the dog. Time for some kid training! Make it a game or contest with your kids to see who can go 3 minutes without looking at, talking to or touching the dog; or give your kid a specific task he has to complete before greeting your puppy, like putting his backpack in his room or going to the kitchen for a snack.
The first lifestyle change is making sure to get your dog out for a potty trip before putting him into a situation that’s known to bring on the sprinkles. If his bladder is full, he’ll have a much harder time controlling himself – so the emptier, the better. This generally means a potty trip before company or family members come into the house, a potty trip before playtime and a potty trip before any other kind of exciting event. Check your chart and plan your potty trips around it, revising as needed.
Greeting your dog calmly is the most important thing you can do to minimize his submissive urination. Of course it’s tempting to fuss over him, but nothing turns on the waterworks more quickly than a big, dramatic greeting from a human. If you come home to a dog who’s in a crate, leave him in the crate for a few minutes after you get home to give him some time to get over the initial excitement of your homecoming. Then take him out of the crate without any greeting (don’t look at him or talk to him) and take him straight to his potty area. Eliminating the exciting-greeting routine is an enormous help for most submissive urinators. Once he’s empty, you may calmly say hello, but only if it doesn’t cause him to sprinkle. For some dogs, you may need to wait until you are home for 20-30 minutes so that the dog is totally calm and able to control himself.
If you come home to a dog who’s loose in the house, walk right past him without saying hello. Wait until your puppy isn’t pestering you and then take him calmly to his potty area to empty out. If you need to put a leash on him, make sure you really watch your body language. This is a prime time for your dog to let loose if you intimidate him with your movements and postures. Make sure you don’t reach over his head or grab his collar quickly. You could try sitting in a chair so that your puppy comes to you to put his leash on; that way, you’re less likely to bend or reach over him. You could also concentrate on keeping your shoulders back while reaching under his chin for the collar. Once you get your dog out and he completes his potty, you may calmly say hello, but only if it doesn’t cause him to sprinkle.
There’s a great homeopathic product called Leaks No More that can help some dogs with submissive urination issues. It may not work for every dog, but for some dogs it can resolve submissive urination problems without the need for any other changes. It’s easy to use, reasonably priced and definitely worth a try!
Doggie diapers or belly bands can be helpful when you’re in the process of trying to resolve a submissive urination problem. We’re not suggesting them as a permanent solution, but it can be helpful to use them if you’re trying to avoid getting urine on your floors, since you can just check the diaper or wrap to see if your dog’s improving. You should find that the diapers are wet less frequently as you go along, and you can eliminate them once you’re finding that they’re consistently dry. This is also a good solution for determining progress if you’re trying to resolve your male dog’s marking (leg-lifting in the house) issues.
One of the best things you can do for a dog that lacks confidence is to obedience-train him on your own or with the help of a trainer. Teach your dog lots of commands and tricks so you have plenty of chances to congratulate him for being a smart fellow, which will help him feel more sure of himself. Work with your puppy on obedience training regularly so he knows what’s expected of him.
Be sure that your training method emphasizes rewards. Especially with sensitive dogs, obedience training should focus on the positive. Training with food rewards helps submissive dogs by keeping their focus off the person, so use plenty of treats in the early stages of your training.
Although you shouldn’t be harsh when training your dog, fair corrections actually tend to increase most submissive dogs’ confidence, so don’t be afraid to correct – just make sure you’re doing it properly. Gentle leash corrections will tend to work the best; avoid corrections where you yell at the dog or move toward him quickly. If he’s urinating in response to discipline, you’re likely being too hard on him or correcting him in a way that is overwhelming for him. Consider consulting a trainer if you’re not sure what’s appropriate for your puppy.
Once your obedience training is moving along, use his obedience commands to give him something specific to do when he’s greeting people or in other situations known to be triggers. A really good exercise for submissive urinators is “place” or “go to your bed.” The place command teaches your dog to go to his bed and stay there until you tell him he is done. It’s perfect when people come through a door, because it moves the dog away from the people and gives everyone time to calm down before any greetings take place.
NOTE: Remember, no correction of ANY kind should be used at the moment when the dog is submissively urinating, since he isn’t aware what he’s doing and can’t connect the correction to the action. Correction or scolding at that time will worsen the problem, so don’t do it! A gentle, patient approach that builds the dog’s confidence is the best remedy for resolving submissive urination behaviorally. If you find that these methods aren’t working, consult with your vet about medications that may help your dog with his anxiety and submissive urination issues.
Purchase Supplies Related to This Article
|Leaks No More
All-Natural Leaks No More is a miracle supplement for dogs with incontinence issues… and it works for many dogs with submissive/excited urination issues, too!
Using a Belly Band can help you assess whether your training is helping to resolve marking or submissive urination problems. No need to risk tinkles on your floors… just check the Belly Band to see what your dog’s been up to! They’re also a life-saver for older dogs that are having bladder control issues. For females, try a Doggie Diaper instead.
While I don’t recommend using doggie diapers instead of housebreaking your dog (!), they can be useful for certain situations, including incontinence issues and assessing your progress with submissive urination or marking training.
|Natural Balance Dog Food Roll
Natural Balance Dog Food Roll is great as a food, but even better as a training treat! Cost-effective, yummy and easy to use. My personal favorite… I use it with almost every dog I train!
|Freeze-Dried Chicken Treats
These yummy Freeze-Dried Chicken Treats are ideal for dogs with sensitive tummies that might not be able to tolerate multi-ingredient treats. Just one ingredient… chicken!
|Freeze-Dried Liver Treats
A favorite of dog trainers (and dogs!) everywhere, freeze-dried liver is an excellent choice for rewarding your dog’s good behaviors. A good choice for sensitive tummies, too!