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October 15, 2012

Submissive Urination

The Humane Society of the United States

In a pack, dogs have many ways to show the leader that they accept his role as top dog and thus avoid a confrontation. One way is to roll on their backs and urinate on themselves.

Submissive urination is common and normal in puppies, who will usually outgrow the behavior. But some puppies remain timid into adulthood, and submissive urination can become a problem in the home.

Signs of submissive urination are when he urinates:

  • When he's being scolded.
  • When a person approaches him.
  • When he's being greeted.
  • When there's a disturbance such as a loud argument or sirens blaring.
  • While making submissive postures, such as crouching, tail tucking, or rolling over and exposing his belly.

If your dog urinates when he's playing or being greeted but doesn’t exhibit submissive postures, he has a different problem: excitement urination.

Why does my dog do this?

Dogs who urinate in submission are usually shy, anxious, or timid and may have a history of being treated harshly or punished inappropriately. A dog who's unclear of the rules and unsure how to behave will be chronically insecure. He urinates and adopts submissive postures to mollify anyone he perceives as a "leader" and to avoid punishment.

Recommendations

First, take your dog to your veterinarian to rule out any medical reasons for the behavior.

Then, start building up his confidence with these steps:

  • Teach him commands using positive reinforcement training methods.
  • Keep his routine and environment as consistent as possible.
  • Gradually expose him to new people and new situations and try to ensure that his new experiences are positive and happy.
  • Keep greetings low-key (no bear hugs or loud voices, which your dog may perceive as acts of dominance).
  • Encourage and reward confident postures such as sitting or standing.
  • Give him an alternative to submissive behaviors. For example, have him "sit" or "shake" as you approach, and reward him for obeying.
  • Avoid approaching him with postures that he may interpret as dominant or confrontational. Avoid direct eye contact; look at his back or tail instead. Get down on his level by bending at the knees rather than leaning over from the waist. Ask others to approach him in the same way. Pet him under the chin rather than the top of his head. Approach him from the side, rather than head on, and/or present the side of your body to him.
  • Eliminate odors wherever your dog submissively urinates, especially if he isn't completely house-trained.
  • Don't punish or scold him for submissive urination. This will only make the problem worse.
  • If your dog is extremely fearful, ask your vet about medications that may help during the retraining process.

Above all, be patient. It will take time for your dog to gain confidence, but with you leading the way, he can overcome his fears and blossom into a happy, secure dog.

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