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Submissive Urination - Why Do Our Dogs Do It?

Do you have a puppy or older dog who leaves messy puddles of urine all over the house?

Submissive urination in dogs is a difficult habit for us humans to comprehend, it just doesn't seem to be a rational behavior. In order for us to understand and therefore effectively treat submissive urination we must look at the situation from our dog's perspective.

submissive urination in dogs

What Exactly Is Submissive Urination In Dogs?

Submissive urination is simply your dog's instinctive reaction to a situation where they believe a human or other animal (usually another more dominant dog) in their presence is superior to them.

Submissive urination is something your dog does when feeling intimidated or threatened to show respect, acknowledge superiority or avoid confrontation. It is an instinctive, subconscious act which is rarely deliberate and is not done to spite you. In many cases the dog is even unaware that he/she is doing it.

Submissive urination is not a puppy housetraining issue, the two issues are not related. It is also not to be confused with a very young puppy who when excited does not yet have complete control over his bladder. Young puppies soon develop the necessary control to overcome this type of inappropriate urination. Submissive urination is a completely different challenge for us dog lovers.

Why Do Dogs Perform
Submissive Urination?

There are a number of circumstances which can trigger submissive urination. Generally speaking though it is through a lack of confidence in your dog and can often be attributed to a lack of life experience.

Below is a list of situations where canine submissive urination commonly occurs:

  • Submissive urination regularly occurs in puppies who are yet to learn more appropriate means of showing respect. Most dogs offer submissive gestures such as averting their eyes, low head position, ears back, rolling onto their back and just a generally low body position. Other examples of submissive behavior are letting other dogs or humans walk through a doorway first, letting another dog have the better bed and even letting another more dominant dog eat first. These are all behaviors which are similar, but more appropriate and understandable, in our eyes to submissive urination.

  • Dogs are extremely perceptive of and affected by your voice, posture, actions and energy. Submissive urination is one way dogs will respond to these things.

  • In older dogs submissive urination can be a symptom of being shy, lacking self esteem, fear, insecurity, over sensitivity, confusion and nervousness. This can be attributed to a variety of factors including a frightful incident in the past, lack of puppy socialization and training, a very strict or dominant owner, abuse, mistreatment or a lack of other social skills.

  • A dog who is inappropriately punished will not understand what the punishment was for. This will lead to anxiety and confusion which, in turn can trigger submissive urination. Your dog may offer it instinctively to avoid a punishment which in their nervous and confused mind could come at any time.

Dog Submissive Urination
Never Punish Your Dog For Submissive Urination

How Can We Treat
Submissive Urination?

There are plenty of things you can do to treat submissive urination in dogs. Most of these measures revolve around boosting the confidence levels in your dog and also teaching an alternate behavior for your dog to perform in situations where they would normally urinate.

  • If you've read down this far you will now understand why it is ridiculous to punish your dog for submissive urination. In your dog's mind he/she is already submitting, being non confrontational and showing respect to you (or something else). So adding punishment to this scenario will only compound the problem and make the urinating behavior more common.

  • Just as important as not adding punishment to your dog's submissive urination problem is to not attach your reassurance or affection to the behavior. If you smother your dog with sympathy or cuddle up to them each time they have an "accident" you are actually rewarding the behavior and therefore reinforcing it (making it occur more often). It's important to simply ignore the submissive urination when it happens and practice some of the treatments suggested below.

  • Socialize your puppy or older dog to the environment around him/her. Get him familiar and comfortable with all types of people, dogs and other animals. This is a great way to build awareness and confidence in an overly submissive dog.

  • Obedience training is a brilliant way to improve the two way communication between yourself and your dog. Instead of your dog urinating when you arrive home from work you will be able to request an alternate behavior of your dog. You could put him in a down-stay or get him to sit and shake your hand. This will redirect his energy and give him an appropriate outlet for him to show you respect. Obedience training is also a great confidence builder, plus it helps to build a strong bond between human and dog.

  • If your dog pees when you return home you can also try ignoring him. Take the excitement out of returning home, ignore him, take him straight outside and don't look at him or talk to him. Just go about your business until he has quietened down and you are ready to initiate contact with him in a calm and controlled manner.

  • Practice general things throughout the day to help build your dogs confidence and strengthen your relationship. Have regular training sessions, talk to him in a kind voice, touch him and hand feed him when appropriate. Interact with your dog down at his level which is a non threatening and even submissive position for you to take. Also avoid scolding him and looking him in the eye, don't intimidate him through dominant body language such as bending down over the top of him or greeting him head on.

  • When you are beginning to see some progress and your dog is not urinating in situations where he once would of offer him praise and toss a tasty treat his way. Don't go overboard with it but let him know you are happy with him.

Submissive urination is a frustrating behavior but with a bit of planning and dedication you can turn it around. Good luck with your dog...

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Please consult the services of a Professional Dog Trainer, Behaviorist or Veterinarian before implementing any of the advice contained on this site.