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Submissive Urination in Dogs

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Submissive urination is a very common social behavior of dogs. In the wild, when a subordinate dog greets a dominant one, she will avert her eyes, lower her head, cower, or even go belly up. She may then deposit a little liquid peace offering on the ground. This sequence of behaviors indicates deference, and is intended to avoid confrontation. It’s the canine way of saying “I’m no threat. You’re in charge.” Pups and young females are the most likely to display these behaviors, since they rank lowest in the pack.

The Princess and the Pee

What works just fine in the wild is not so well adapted to our homes, where dogs must share our rugs, couches, and fine hardwood floors. How can Princess learn it’s not nice to greet guests by peeing on their shoes?

The good news is that most puppies outgrow this behavior, usually by the end of their first year. Rarely, submissive urination may persist into adulthood or be severe enough to require medication. If your puppy or young adult dog begins leaking urine or having urinary accidents at random, it may not be submissive urination but a medical problem. If in doubt, it’s best to check with your veterinarian.

How to Stop Submissive Urination in Dogs

For a typical case of submissive urination, here are some strategies that can help:

Avoid the triggers. You’re happy to see your dog at the end of the day, but too much excitement can give any pup the urge to pee. Leaning over your dog to pet her—a dominant gesture—only makes things worse. When greeting your dog, kneel down, speak softly, avoid direct eye contact, and wait for her to come to you. If your arrival home is still too much for her to handle, try ignoring her for the first few minutes until she is calmer. You may even need to unceremoniously lead her outside to eliminate before you can safely say “hi.” The same rules apply when children and guests arrive. Note: hugging can be a dominant signal so it is best to wait till she is calmer before hugging and conveying affection.

Improve your dog’s confidence. Since submissive urination is a function of low status, increasing your dog’s social confidence can help. Basic obedience training (teaching sit-stay-come and basic leash manners) is one of the best ways to boost your dog’s mojo.

Containing the Stain

Everyone makes mistakes. To treat dog urine stains on carpet or furniture, try the following:

  1. Blot, don’t scrub, the soiled surface with a light-colored or colorfast cloth or paper towel.
  2. Saturate the stain with your cleanser of choice. Just-for-pets products with enzymatic activity such as Nature's Miracle, can work well. Be sure to spot-test the cleanser before using it on your carpet.
  3. Now, with a second cloth, scrub the stain in a circular motion, working from the outside in. If stain removal is incomplete, repeat steps two and three as needed.

Counter-conditioning. The strategy here is to prevent an unwanted behavior by eliciting a conflicting behavior. For example, try teaching your dog to sit-stay for a food treat the minute you (or your guests or the kids) walk in the door. Or try engaging your dog in a game of fetch the minute you come home. Your dog will be focused on the task at hand and forget her impulse to pee.

Scolding never works. Your threatening body language sends a dominant signal that makes your dog’s submissive tendencies worse.

Limit water intake. It can be helpful to limit your dog’s water intake for the 2-3 hours before guests are expected or the children are due home. Less water going in means less urine coming out. Consult your vet before resorting to this measure, however. Some dogs have medical conditions that make water restriction harmful.

Manage anxiety. Submissive urination can be part of a more generalized anxiety problem in some dogs. Anxious dogs may cower, tremble, bark excessively, be destructive, fear loud noises, or show separation anxiety, and of course, eliminate inappropriately. Your veterinarian can suggest ways to help manage your dog’s anxiety. An Adaptil Collar for Dogs can also be very helpful in calming an anxious dog.

Consult your veterinarian. If you’ve tried these basic measures and your dog still has a problem, it’s time to call the vet. Your vet will rule out medical conditions that could disrupt a dog’s ability to control her urine. Once a medical problem is ruled out, medication that aids bladder function may be the last resort.


Disclaimer: This website is not intended to replace professional consultation, diagnosis, or treatment by a licensed veterinarian. If you require any veterinary related advice, contact your veterinarian promptly. Information at DogHealth.com is exclusively of a general reference nature. Do not disregard veterinary advice or delay treatment as a result of accessing information at this site.