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Helping Your Dog Overcome Submissive Urination

Does your dog respond to stress by urinating indoors?

Learn about submissive urination to help your dog overcome the related anxiety

To deal with submissive urination in dogs, first you need to understand it. It’s time once again to crawl inside the canine mind and learn what makes a dog decide to pee themselves, and how to help them overcome that reflex.

What Causes a Dog’s Submissive Urination?

You might have noticed a few things about submissive urination already:

  • The dog is watching someone or something very carefully and looks scared or submissive.
  • The dog doesn’t even notice they’ve peed themselves.
  • The dog’s tail is between their legs and their head is probably low to the ground.

Dogs engage in submissive urination to show they are not a threat to someone or something. This urination sends a signal in the dog language: the dog doing the urination, is in a state of willful surrender and fear.

This is quite the opposite of what some dog owners first assume. It’s not a matter of spite! In fact, it’s a sign of respect. The message being sent during submissive urination is, “you are my superior, I give up.” It’s not even necessarily being done on purpose. More often, it’s a matter of losing control.

Please note that, if your dog suffers from submissive urination problem, you and your puppy or dog have not failed at house training. This is a completely separate issue. It’s also not related to the common fact that excited puppies will forget to hold their bladders.

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Why is Your Dog Performing Submissive Urination?

The short answer is, it’s a matter of your dog feeling a moment of sudden and extreme stress. However, more specifically, it’s usually a case of the dog feeling inexperienced in a situation or lacking confidence.

With that in mind, take a look at this list of common situations when submissive urination tends to happen:

  • The puppy hasn’t learned other ways of showing respect. In this case, submissive urination will be eventually replaced by other behaviors; for example, laying low to the ground and exposing their belly, allowing their superior to eat or walk before them, or breaking eye contact.
  • Their alpha is very angry or upset, and they haven’t encountered that before.
  • Adult dogs who have been abused, undergone a life change such as change of owners or homes, or are trying to accept a new, more dominant doggie-addition to the household can suffer from submissive urination. This is often a sign they have not had enough socialization.
  • Some dogs are just overly emotional, and respond to certain triggers via submissive urination.
  • Important: Punishing your dog the wrong way, either too harshly or at a time when they don’t know what the punishment is for, can to submissive urination, and not only at that moment. They may “train themselves” that certain gestures and tones of voice from you are signs that you’re about to attack them, triggering a submissive urination.

The Most Important Thing To Know:

DO NOT PUNISH OR SCOLD YOUR DOG FOR SUBMISSIVE URINATION!

When submissive urination happens, it’s a sign that your dog is in a state of stress so bad, they’re losing control over their bodily functions. Don’t do anything to add to that stress. It’s a good time to be aware even of your breathing, body language, and your state of energy. Your dog certainly is aware of it, particularly at a time like that!

Train your dog to be calmer and end submissive urination

How do You Help Your Dog Treat Submissive Urination?

Thinking back to the core reasons why submissive urination happens, the obvious thing to do is to teach them new responses for submission, while also building your dog’s confidence.

  • Neither punish nor encourage submissive urination. Heaping affection on the dog in order to calm their fears may teach them they’ve done the right thing.
  • Begin, or continue, puppy socialization training - even if it’s an adult dog who’s having the problem. This provides vital experience and directly helps overly submissive dogs.
  • Begin or resume appropriate obedience training. This will help with any dog having problems with submissive urination, but especially dogs who’ve been abused in the past. Teach them that instead of cowering, you’d rather they shake your hand to greet you. Specific tricks aside, obedience training, when done the right way, shows your dog that you aren’t the scary kind of alpha they’re afraid you are.
  • There’s a chance that the overly-submissive feelings are coming from separation anxiety; the dog thinks that showing extreme submission will please you. If submissive urination has become your dog’s manner of greeting you when you walk in the door, then you need to calmly ignore your dog for a little while until they calm down themselves. Then greet them warmly, to show that a calmer state is a behavior you consider worth rewarding.
  • In general, work on strengthening the family bond between you and your dog. Show him some respect – interact with him close to the floor, avoid prolonged eye contact, and be more affectionate in general. Avoid any intimidating interactions.
  • Remember to reward progress. Your dog will notice when his behavior is changing, and when you show him you’re happy with him as that progress takes place, it will encourage more confidence.

More information about ending submissive urination

So in summary, remember to keep you dog’s state of mind close to your heart when this problem arises. Submissive urination is a problem for you, but it signals a state of near-terror for your dog, so be very sensitive. Follow the advice above, and your dog will eventually understand that his social standing is much better than he thinks it is, and learn new ways to show you respect.

P.S. This article dealt mainly with submissive urination in cases where your dog is submitting to you. See my article about Dog to Dog Aggression, if one of your dogs is abusing the other to cause the other dog’s submissive urination. If that’s the case, you’ll want to work this program and that one at the same time.

Return to general dog training, or go back to dog behavior training.

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