Dog Submissive Urination: Why it Happens (It’s Not Always What You Think)
Timid dog submissive urination is a serious problem for puppy owners who aren’t familiar with ways to recognize it and deal with the underlying causes. Many pet owners think that man’s best friend has accidents due to poor potty training or in retaliation to something. The fact is that people have a submissive dog who develops anxiety and fear in various situations leading to unwanted urination.
Submissive urination is a canine issue that can be solved with understanding, recognition, and training. This is a behavior problem that exists because your dog isn’t sure how to deal with uncertain situations. He needs you to help him gain confidence in his environment so he isn’t fearful. Submissive urination is often seen with another problem, excitement urination. Both urination problems are best addressed at an early age with young puppies but can be resolved with an older pet too with the right training.
Understanding Dog Submissive Urination
Submissive urination is a behavioral issue that happens because a timid dog becomes extremely anxious or fearful in specific situations. Because of fear, your puppy takes a submissive posture and potentially urinates to show that he understands that you, another person, or dog is the dominant one. The action is similar to what young puppies do when approached by their mom: roll on their backs without argument to let her clean them up.
As a puppy gets older, he may not roll over but will cower with urine dribbling to the floor. Remember that dogs come from the canine world with a pack mentality. The pack mentality means that dogs understand the order of power within the family structure. If your puppy urinates in reaction to people or animals approaching, he is communicating that he doesn’t want to be a threat. In the wild this isn’t a problem; your living room is a different story. To solve this behavior problem, you need to recognize it, rule out medical reasons, and then give your dog the confidence that a fight won’t ensue if he takes a slightly more assertive approach to common situations.
Submissive Urination and Other Dogs
If you have other dogs in the house, there will be a natural pecking order that evolves. This is what dogs do. Some dogs are naturally more submissive while even a puppy can be naturally more aggressive. Keep this in mind if you have both types of dogs in the house and your timid dog is having issues with submissive urination.
Consider this scenario: your very dominant dog and very anxious dog both greet you when you come home. Both dogs are vying for your affection. Your dominant dog nips at the timid one because he expects to be first to everything from the food to your love. Your timid dog then has an accident. You can’t address this problem exclusively as a timid dog issue. You need to create a system to train your dominant dog to be more inclusive – after all, you are the pack leader and he needs to follow your rules for the pack.
Taming the Dominant Dog
Taming the dominant dog isn’t about breaking his spirit or instilling fear in him. It’s about showing him that there are rewards for following the rules the humans set. Rules might include having both dogs sit and wait for you to acknowledge them when you get home. It requires removing a lot of aggressive games such as tug-o-war. Make it clear that feeding time is equal time and reward your dominant dog with praise and affection when he follows your rules. He isn’t relinquishing his role in the pack hierarchy, but he is acknowledging you as the pack leader.
Puppy Postures and Dog Body Language Warnings
We all know that a dog wagging his tail rapidly back and forth is generally a good sign that he is happy and confident in his situation. Submissive dogs can quickly go from a happy dog to a fearful dog. Recognizing the change in posture helps thwart submissive urination situations.
Here are some body language signs that your dog is in a submissive mentality and may have an accident:
- Rolling Over with Belly Exposed: when a dog exposes his belly, he is showing his most vulnerable position and making a statement that he is not a threat.
- Avoiding Direct Eye Contact: your dog will keep an eye on what is approaching but make direct eye contact when he is in a submissive posture. Dogs look from a side-eyed or lowered eye position when expressing that they are fearful and taking a submissive posture.
- Ears Slick Back Against the Head: happy and confident dogs keep their ears up to take in all sounds around them. Submissive dogs will slick their ears back to show they are not looking for an environmental advantage.
- Grinning (Not Snarling): dog smiles and facial expressions may be cute but don’t indicate happiness. A snarl and grin are different. A snarl has raised lips with teeth showing and in an aggressive posture. A submissive grin shows teeth but doesn’t lift the lips upward or crinkle the nose.
- Tucked Tail with Unsure Wag: a timid puppy protects his most vulnerable parts by lowering his tail, tucking it between his legs. Intermittent wagging may happen as the dog looks for reassurance that he is safe.
- Licking a Dominant Dog’s Muzzle: how dogs greet each other says a lot about their confidence level. Dogs that greet another dog by lowering their heads and licking the muzzle of the other dog are showing submissive behavior.
- Peeing When Greeted: a little dribble with the other postures demonstrates a dog that is submissive or fearful.
Don’t Make Submissive Urination Worse
How you react to your dog can contribute to more submissive urination rather than curbing or solving the issue. Dogs will often respond to their owner’s cues. Your body language and tone of voice affect whether your puppy is feeling calmer or more anxious. Creating a calming environment helps reduce submissive urination.
Using punishment will increase submissive urination, so be disciplined to avoid knee jerk reactions of yelling at your dog for peeing on the floor. Instead, learn positive reinforcement techniques to show him what behavior is appropriate instead. Neutering can help with urine marking behaviors but may not completely resolve the submissive urination issue.
Other Types of Urination Problems
It is important that every dog owner dealing with submissive urination understands whether or not the behavior is actually the result of being submissive and timid. There are other reasons dogs have urination problems; rule these things out before directly addressing a submissive urination issue.
Medical Reasons: Urinary Tract Infection
If your dog suddenly starts having dribble and urination issues, consider a trip to the veterinarian to rule out a urinary tract infection (UTI). A urinary tract infection is a bacterial infection that is easily treated with antibiotics.
Here are six UTI symptoms to keep an eye out for if you are ruling out medical reasons for accidents:
- Sudden Accidents: a dog that doesn’t have a history of urination accidents may have a urinary tract infection. These are usually more than a dribble and leave a puddle to clean.
- Frequent Need to Urinate: a desire to go out and relieve himself more frequently due to inflammation creating discomfort.
- Bloody or Cloudy Urine: this may be hard to examine unless your dog has an accident where you can see it clearly, but cloudy or a bit of blood in the urine should send you to the vet.
- Constant Genital Licking: more so that the normal dog licking habits, dogs with a UTI feel the need to clean themselves more to relieve the discomfort.
- Extreme Thirst: dogs suffering from a UTI will drink more water than normal and while they seek to pee more often will likely have less urine released than expected.
- Pain or Discomfort When Urinating: a dog that cries, yelps, or seems to strain while urinating likely has a UTI.
There are some other medical issues your veterinarian will rule out if a UTI is not the culprit. Young puppies and even older dogs may have bladder control issues. For older dogs, the cause may be a cyst or tumor pressing against the bladder. Certain medications may lead to incontinence. All of these should be ruled out just to make sure you follow the right course of action to resolve the problem.
Fear of Punishment
A timid dog finds many things threatening. New humans, assertive animals, and your tone of voice could make your dog afraid especially if you don’t use positive reinforcement training. There is an old school of thought that isn’t well subscribed to by most professional dog trainers. It says that you have to make a dog afraid of you to establish dominance. While it is possible to gain some level of compliance through punishment training, it doesn’t serve a dog owner well in the long run.
There are adverse effects of punishment and getting scolded that include a dog not completely bonding with his owner, he won’t come back when given a chance to run free (or escapes), and submissive urination issues increase. An example of punishment training is hitting a dog with a rolled-up newspaper for having a pee accident. Even threatening a timid dog with loud voices has adverse effects.
Often urination accidents aren’t discovered immediately so your dog doesn’t even know why he is getting hit with the newspaper. All he knows is that when his humans come home he might get hit. This increases his fear. If this is an already timid or submissive dog, it can increase submissive urination frequency.
Take an honest assessment as to whether or not your training patterns or even your initial reaction to a pee accident could be adding to the problem you are trying to resolve.
Loud Noises and Chaotic Situations
Some dogs are more fearful of loud noises than others. A thunderstorm can be very stressful for a skittish dog sensitive to the changes in barometric pressure during the storm. Fireworks have frequencies heard by dogs that aren’t heard by us; the overall sudden bangs and general chaos makes pets want to run for shelter. Oddly, some skittish and timid dogs aren’t affected by loud noises.
If your timid dog is affected by loud noises, pay attention to your dog’s tendencies and address the skittishness with behavioral training, a Thunder Shirt, or even a sedative if your veterinarian prescribes one. Dogs rely on humans in the home to keep them safe from thunder and fireworks.
Separation anxiety is a behavioral condition in dogs that results in a multitude of problems for dog owners that includes barking, crying, destructive tendencies, and urination problems. In as short as 20 minutes of their owner leaving, a dog with separation anxiety can become so stressed that they are inconsolable by anyone else except the person they are attached to.
While separation anxiety is more commonly developed with younger dogs that have not been properly socialized or trained, it can happen with older dogs. Traumatic events such as the loss of a loved one or being given up for adoption can trigger separation anxiety in already well-trained dogs.
Resolving Separation Anxiety Excitement Urination
An anxious dog may become overly excited upon his owner’s return leading to excitement urination (this usually isn’t related to submissive urination). To remedy this issue, use positive reinforcement training to get your dog comfortable with short periods when you are away. You may need to start with something as simple as getting your belongings without leaving. This shows him that grabbing your keys and putting your coat on are not things to worry about. Slowly add time out the door and away from your home.
As you increase the time away from the house, return in a calm and simple fashion. This is the one time that you don’t want to shower him with praise and get him excited. It’s important to have your dog learn that your comings and goings are no big deal. If he isn’t anxious and remains calm when you return, you are less likely to have excitement urination issues.
Prevent Marking Issues
Submissive urination problems can spiral into another behavioral issue, marking. Marking is an instinctive canine trait that is used to define territories and pack hierarchy. Some wild dingoes have been known to get up on their front paws to mark the exact spot of another dingo to override his mark. Your domestic dog may never go to such extremes but will still mark; even submissive and timid dogs mark territory.
There are a couple of ways that submissive urination leads to bigger marking issues. Dogs will mark upright objects – think of the fire hydrant or lamp post he lifts his leg on during his walks. The dog that marks higher is viewed as the dominant dog. When your dog has submissive urination issues, his scent is released with his accident. This means he may later decide to mark other things. It is also possible that another dog in the house or visiting may take to dominant marking in your home.
Cleaning Up Urine to Prevent Marking Issues
Just wiping up the urine is not enough to clean the area of your dog’s scent. If he dribbled on the carpet, this task is even more difficult. Brands such as Nature’s Miracle have various products for floors, carpets, and furniture to help remove the pet odors and reduce future marking. The sooner you clean up after an accident, the better.
Remember that dogs who have submissive urination problems will not respond well to punishment training techniques. It will only make them more fearful, so do your best to control your frustrations and find a solution to prevent accidents.
Expose Timid Dogs to Lots of Things
Timid dogs benefit from being taken out on walks to see and smell everything. The socialization that happens with people and other dogs helps them realize the world isn’t as scary as it seems. Animal behaviorists and professional dog trainers agree that taking a dog out to see his neighborhood and visit new places helps him develop confidence. This confidence will allow even a naturally submissive dog to experience new things without being overly anxious.
Socialization and exposure show timid dogs that not everything is a threat. Make sure you let others who want to approach your dog know to do so calmly with their hand below your dog’s head rather than over it. Petting the dog is good as long as it is done appropriately. Approaching with your hands and body hovering over the dog is intimidating. Guide others as they meet your dog to keep everyone safe and to help your dog build necessary confidence skills. Ask people to avoid making direct eye contact until your dog is comfortable with them.
Positive Reinforcement Training Solutions
When dealing with an anxious dog prone to submissive urination, make sure you understand the positive training methods that will help your dog and not make things worse. Some of what you need to do is a bit counterintuitive to other positive reinforcement training because in most cases you are encouraged to shower your dog with praise and love when he does something well.
In the case of submissive urination behavioral issues, you’ll need to dial back your enthusiasm at times to not overstimulate your dog. It won’t take much overstimulate him and potentially start an episode of excitement urination. Instead, use a food rewards training program with a calm demeanor when dealing with separation anxiety, submissive urination, and excitement urination. A treat goes a long way to let your dog know he is doing things right.
Don’t let submissive urination be a burden on your relationship with your dog. Take the time to make sure he is healthy and doesn’t have a medical condition you need to address. Then consider how to take your timid pet and help him build the confidence to know he is a valuable part of the family and should trust his pack.
Kimberlee Leonard is a certified pet first aid and CPR instructor. Her company, Safer Family Pets helps families prepared for worst-case scenarios including evacuations during natural disasters. She enjoys time with her beagle mix, Arky who enjoys “sit-walks” where he sits more than walks, enjoying the fresh mountain air.