Submissive Urination in Puppies

Friends visit and your puppy greets them at the door with a puddle of urine. You come home from a long day at work to having your shoes dampened by the same pup. Your teenage son and daughter have a boisterous argument and your pup rolls on its back between them and urinates. Frustrating, messy, and difficult to deal with without a strong background in canine behavior, submissive urination is an all too common problem.

Why Pups Suffer from Submissive Urination

In the wild, wolf and fox puppies learn to act submissively to the adults in the pack. This includes licking their lips and chin, rolling on their back, and urinating on themselves. This instinctual submissive behavior is designed to appease the older dogs or pack leader if the pup misbehaved and as a sign of overall subservience.

In our society, submissive behavior is still a common problem. A puppy makes a mess in the house or chews something they should not and the owner becomes upset, displaying  dominant, and even aggressive behavior. Our domesticated pup knows the best way to apologize and lessen the reprimand is to display the same submissive behaviors that their wild cousins show the pack leader.

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Degrees of subservient behavior vary between pups, even within the same litter. Females have a tendency to suffer from the problem more then males and dominant, aggressive, or cocky dogs rarely become submissive urinators. A loud, aggressive, or dominant owner can exacerbate the problem in the same way a meek owner will be ruled by a dominant dog.

What to do if your Pup is a Submissive Urinator

The first step is to take the pup to the veterinarian for a full examination to make sure he is healthy and sound. There are medical conditions that make it difficult for pups to control their eliminatory systems as well as illnesses or infections. If there is a physical reason why the pup cannot hold their bladder, discuss the various options with your veterinarian in regards to treatment and/or coping.

Once the vet has given your pup a clean bill of health, it is time to retrain the pup in an effort to build up his confidence and stop the ‘leaking pup’ syndrome.

Most pups outgrow submissive urination as they mature but in some cases, the behavior is either too extreme for maturity to solve the problem entirely or the owners are not willing to wait that long. In either case, the treatment is the same.

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No matter what the cause, keep in mind that the submissive urinator is by nature an extremely sensitive dog. Harsh words, aggressive or threatening words or posture, and physical reprimands (never acceptable in any circumstances) are only going to make the situation worse. Learning to correct the pup in a non-threatening manner will bring out the best in the shy and timid dog, allowing him to grow into his full potential.

Instead of always correcting ‘bad’ behavior, begin to praise and encourage him when he is displaying good behavior. This positive reinforcement builds self-confidence and helps to improve the owner/dog bond.

Keep greetings and goodbyes to a bare minimum. When you leave to go to work in the morning, try just picking up your keys and leaving and when you come, ignore any acts of greetings on his part entirely. Once he is calm, bend down into a crouched position and call him over to you. Encourage him to stay on all four feet or to sit but stand up and walk away if he tries to fling himself on his back. Keep from leaning over him in your greeting as this is considered a dominant position.

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If your pup customarily pees on the feet of guests, make sure he is well toileted and exercised prior to the arrival so he is empty and exhausted. If the guests are very squeamish, limit his water intake the hour prior to their arrival. However, never leave a dog for longer without access to fresh water. You can also ask your guests prior to their arrival to ignore the pup until he has calmed down – this could save their shoes!

Obedience training and dog sports are a great way to build the confidence of a dog that suffers from submissive urination. The strong bond that develops between dog and handler also increases the likelihood of the owner learning to read their dog’s behavior accurately and an ability to correct inappropriate behavior in a quiet, non-threatening way.

Many dogs suffer from submissive urination but between maturity, building up the pup’s confidence, and learning to stay calm yourself, the problem is entirely correctable. Also, if you happen to choose the timid wallflower of the litter, preventive measures can be started right away to bolster the pup’s self-confidence before submissive urination becomes a problem.

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