Understanding submissive urination

If he’s otherwise healthy, a dog that spontaneously urinates when he greets visitors or when you come home from work every day may have a problem with submissive urination. In the world of canines, a dog that wants to diffuse a potentially aggressive situation or show that he’s subordinate will urinate in the presence of another dog. This behavior is carried over to the dog-human relationship; a dog will urinate for his owner or guests to express submission, particularly if he’s shy or overly sensitive.

Luckily, submissive urination can be dealt with through some simple conditioning exercises to build your dog’s confidence.

Is there a housebreaking problem?

Many dog owners mistakenly believe their dog has a housebreaking problem when they’re first confronted with submissive urination. While a house training issue typically involves random incidents, a dog will only submissively urinate when he wants to express submission. Some common situations include:

  • when you’re too affectionate during greetings or when saying goodbye
  • when guests visit the house
  • when there’s a loud, startling noise
  • or when your dog is scolded or punished

Dealing with submissive urination

Most dogs can overcome submissive urination with proper conditioning. The goal is to build your dog’s confidence to make his expressions of submission less dramatic and desensitize him to situations that cause the behavior problem.

Ignore your dog when you come home

Whenever you leave the house, ignore your dog for at least five to ten minutes after you return. Go about your day and wait until he’s completely settled. Then greet him by crouching down to his level and having him sit. (It’s difficult for a dog to urinate while sitting.) Try to do this in an uncarpeted room to avoid accidents and don’t be overly affectionate, which can prompt submissive urination.

Have your dog sit to greet people

Keep your dog on a leash whenever someone approaches and have him sit to greet the person. Enlist the help of friends to visit and ignore your dog as described above.

Avoid overly affectionate or dominant behaviors

Speak to your dog in a moderate, even tone rather than “baby-talk” and avoid interactions that create too much excitement like hugs or sentimental goodbyes. Even direct eye contact or petting on the head, both signs of dominance, should be kept to a minimum for extremely shy dogs. (See Click and Treat’s article on submissive urination.)

Use obedience training to build your dog’s self-confidence

Introduce obedience training exercises if you haven’t already. Keep training sessions upbeat and give your dog lots of encouragement to build his confidence level. Obedience training will also develop your dog’s trust in your authority, which can keep submissive urination under control.

Socialize your dog

Visit the local park or take him on errands during the day. Introduce your dog to as many sights and sounds as you can to give him a well-rounded experience of people.

Don’t punish

Submissive urination can be a frustrating habit to deal with, but never punish your dog for it. He’s urinating to express submission. If you punish him, he’ll think it was because he wasn’t being submissive enough and he’ll urinate more the next time. Ignore the display, as a good pack leader would, and use the tips above to build your dog into a confident, well-mannered companion.


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