Pet Factsheets

Behavioural problems: submissive urination

Submissive urination occurs when dogs perceive some kind of threat. Events that trigger the submissive behaviour must be identified and changed. To resolve this problem, positive reinforcement can be used to build your dog's confidence, and punishment should be avoided.

What is submissive urination?

Dogs may urinate inappropriately in response to a perceived threat, which may be intentional (eg when an owner scolds the dog) or unintentional (eg when an owner displays a dominant behaviour, such as direct eye contact, standing over the dog, or petting the dog on the head). Submissive urination is the dog's way of communicating that he or she is not a threat and is submitting to the person's dominance.

While submissive urination occurs most commonly in puppies, it can happen with any dog at any age. A dog that displays this behaviour will typically show other submissive signs, such as tucking the tail, looking away, licking the lips, and rolling over on the back.

Excitement urination is somewhat different, occurring when a dog is overly excited, usually when the owner or visitors greet the dog. Affected dogs wag their tails and do not display submissive postures.

Why does my dog exhibit this behaviour?

Dogs communicate with each other through body language and vocalisation, so it's natural for them to react to human facial expressions, gestures, and tones of voice in the same way. Human behaviours that dogs may find threatening include:

  • Scolding or physical punishment
  • Direct eye contact
  • Standing over them
  • Loud, harsh, or excited tones
  • Patting them on the head
  • Making loud noises

How can I stop the behaviour?

Dogs can outgrow submission urination with a little patience from their owners. Build your dog's confidence with positive reinforcement and avoid all punishment. Scolding or punishing a submissive dog only worsens the problem by eliciting more submissive behaviour. Here are a few steps you can take to change the behaviour:

  • Consult your vet. Your vet will ensure that there's not a medical reason for the behaviour and suggest ways to address the problem.
  • Identify the triggers to this behaviour. Find the actions that elicit submissive urination in your dog, and alter the circumstances. If your dog urinates when you greet him or her at the end of a workday, ignore your dog for a few minutes as soon as you get home. This will help your dog stay calm when you arrive, and you can greet your dog calmly when he or she approaches you.
  • Avoid punishment. When your dog urinates submissively, do not punish him or her or express frustration. Either ignore the behaviour and walk away or calmly take your dog outside and reward him or her for urinating outdoors.
  • Avoid aggressive or dominant gestures. Speak calmly to your dog, avoid direct eye contact, kneel at your dog's level rather than leaning over from the waist, and pet your dog under the chin rather than on top of the head. It can also help to approach your dog from the side rather than head on.
  • Reward confident behaviour. Provide your dog with alternatives to submissive behaviour, and reward his or her efforts. For example, if your dog normally cowers when you arrive, ask your dog to sit, and then reward him or her with a treat. Keep rewarding good behaviour throughout the day to build your dog's confidence.

 

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