Submissive urination

11th Apr, 2017

Written by Claire Atkinson M.A. - Canine Behaviourist

Submissive and excited urination are an involuntary loss of bladder control caused by various environmental triggers. While puppies under the age of 12 weeks have limited bladder muscle development and may lose control, this usually stops as the puppy develops. If it doesn’t, there could be more to the situation…

Involuntary urination occurring in dogs which have been properly house-trained is considered to be a behavioural condition. Submissive urination is usually accompanied by cowering, lowering the body, rolling over to expose the tummy, ears back, tail tucked and possibly a submissive ‘grin’ – referred to as appeasement behaviour. Excited urination occurs when the dog is over-excited, usually when the owner returns home, or during play or stressful social contact.

The first approach in any change in excretory behaviour is to rule out possible medical causes. The next step is to evaluate the dog’s house training and situation. Does s/he have adequate outside access? Were there any recent environmental changes (such as moving house) which caused stress and a change in toilet procedure?

The most common cause is separation anxiety, which is escalated by the owner’s behaviour. A common scenario is where the owner returns, greets dog with lots of attention, dog gets over-excited or submissive, and – whoops! – there’s a puddle. It is even more common when the dog has insufficient outside access and thus has a full bladder, and the owner’s return triggers the release.

The good news is that, assuming the cause is not medical, it is relatively easy to correct; calm and quiet from the owner are key. Check your behaviour as you leave and return home. Ideally, you will have trained your dog to accept that coming and going is all part of a normal day, nothing to get stressed about. But if you leave with much sadness, “I’ll be home soon”, and lots of cuddles, the dog’s response is likely to be stressed. Rather throw down a stuffed Kong or a favourite toy and leave quietly.

On return, enter quietly and calmly, and avoid talking to your dog, making eye contact or petting – hard as that may be. If possible, let them outside and wait until they’re calm; throwing a few treats outside helps distract them. This reinforces the idea that when you come home, nice things (treats) happen if they remain calm, while they’re ignored for attention-seeking behaviour. It won’t take long for them to work this out, especially if you have trained other behaviours using positive reinforcement.

Another situation where unwanted urination may occur is when guests arrive. Ideally, one asks guests to behave as suggested above, but people aren’t always co-operative, and throwing ‘treats’ at their feet might endanger the friendship! Teach your dog another response, such as a ‘sit/stay’ or ‘settle’ when guests arrive. If it’s a bunch of ravenous teens arriving, or party time, it might be better to put your dog in a safe place (like another room) until things settle down.

If the dog urinates when excited, keep play sessions relatively calm: the golden rule is if you are calm, your dog will pick up on it.

Above all, never, ever punish a dog for involuntary urination (or anything else for that matter). It is likely to exacerbate the behaviour you don’t want, and also cause the dog to become fearful (this response is often misinterpreted as a ‘guilty’ look).

Be consistent, every day. You’ve been working at it all week, but weekends are time out, right? Not for dogs. Keep going.

If in doubt, please consult a professional for help.