Submissive urination is a behavior in which a dog pees as a response to fear or anxiety. It can be more common in young puppies who are gaining confidence, but can also occur in adult dogs.
While it can be frustrating to clean up, keep in mind that, because submissive urination is a fear-based behavior, trying to interrupt it while it’s happening won’t help. Unlike with normal housetraining, during which taking a puppy or dog outside immediately after an accident can help them associate the outdoors with elimination, submissive peeing is an opportunity for you to determine what your pup is scared of and to work on building confidence.
Signs of submissive urination
If your dog pees at the following times, you are probably dealing with submissive urination:
- Loud or angry voices
- When a person approaches them
- When they are 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 their belly
If your dog urinates when they are playing or being greeted, but doesn’t exhibit submissive postures, they have a different behavior: excitement urination.
Why your dog urinates in submission
Dogs who behave this way are usually shy, anxious or timid and may have a history of being punished for having accidents or jumping up on people. If a dog lives in a home where the guidelines constantly change or one person expects different things than another, this can exacerbate any existing stress.
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How you can help your dog stop
If your dog has just recently started this behavior and it is abnormal, consider seeking veterinary assistance to rule out any potential medical causes.
If your puppy or dog has exhibited this behavior consistently or is otherwise shy or timid, building their confidence through positive-reinforcement based methods will make a world of difference.
- Keep their routine and environment as consistent as possible and advocate for them in situations that might spark the behavior. For example, if your dog urinates when strangers bend over and greet them, politely ask strangers to keep their distance and toss a treat to your pup instead.
- With people your dog is more comfortable with, teach friends or family to approach appropriately. They should avoid direct eye contact, approach from the side rather than head on and get down on their level by bending at the knees rather than leaning over from the waist. If the dog approaches without rolling over, the person can slowly pet them under the chin rather than the top of their head. Keeping voices low will also help your pup feel safe.
- Gradually expose them to new people and new situations and work to ensure that their new experiences are positive and happy by always carrying high-value treats with you. If you’re on a walk and getting closer to a stranger, ask your dog to sit if they know how or simply reward them with treats as the stranger passes.
- Give your pup something else to do like sitting, lying down or doing a trick. When dogs use their brains, they’re less likely to get stuck in a cycle of fear. Of course, if your dog is too scared, don’t ever force them to do a behavior. Instead, increase your distance from the thing or person that is scaring your pup.
- Eliminate odors wherever your dog submissively urinates, especially if they aren't completely house-trained.
- Don't punish or scold them 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 time, they can overcome their fears and blossom into a happier, more confident dog.