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Submissive Urination

Dealing With Puppy Submissive Urination

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Submissive Urination

Puppies often roll onto their back during submissive urination.

Image © mkalalang/Flickr

Puppies wetting isn't always about house training because they use a wide range of communication signals to show deference behavior, including submissive urination. Squatting and peeing is normal behavior used by puppies (and sometimes adult dogs) to “cry uncle” and proclaim the owner—or another dog—to be the boss. Since puppies naturally will be at the bottom of the doggy hierarchy as babies, they use these signals to diffuse situations in which they feel threatened.

Puppies usually outgrow the wetting behavior, but some very submissive dogs continue as adults. In puppies, the scent of the urine also tells the other dog about the baby’s sexual status and maturity level, and that also serves to tell other dogs that the puppy is no threat. However, adolescent boy puppy urine has a much higher content of testosterone, which signals mature dogs they should "teach him well" before he gets too big for his furry britches. These adults can put on quite a show, even if no injury is intended, and the pup's submissive urination helps stop the adult dog's schooling.

In this ultimate display of submission, puppies typically throw themselves at the owner’s feet. He’ll wiggle with lots of loose, low-held tail wags, and avert his eyes in the opposite of a steady hard eye stare, which is a challenge in dog language. He places his body position as low a position as possible. Finally the pup squats close the floor, and wets. Sometimes he turns onto his back before wetting. Submissive wetting behavior most commonly happens during greetings when you return home after an absence.

What NOT To Do

Owners of new puppies understandably object to the dog wetting on the floor. Even youngsters that have been properly potty trained can display submissive urination during greeting displays or when they feel stressed around older dogs or strangers. Some of the same behaviors that look like a guilty puppy may include submissive wetting designed to appease your upset feelings. But remember that because the behavior is instinctive and used to diffuse the angry actions of the scary other dog (or human), your anger can actually make it worse.

Think of it from your puppy’s viewpoint. He pees. You yell, and he thinks, “Oh no, now he’s REALLY upset so I must not be submissive enough!” So he pees some more.

Any actions on your part that communicate you being in charge--yelling, shaming, touching, or even making eye contact—communicates to your puppy that he’s not yet submissive enough. In dog body language, the top dog put a paw across the puppy’s shoulders, or leans his chin across the baby dog’s neck to show they’re in charge. When you pat your puppy on the head, that’s sending a similar message.

How To Stop Puppy Submissive Wetting

So how do you stop puppy submissive urination? Teach him better control and more confidence so he doesn’t feel the urge to wet. Much of this confidence and control come with maturity, but you can help with these tips.

  • Ignore the behavior. I know, that’s hard to do, but refrain from making a big deal out of this. Stay silent and simply mop up the mess as you avoid eye contact.
  • If your puppy wets for another dog, this is an opportunity for the baby to learn from the older pet. Allow the adult canine make his point, nosing the pup for example, before calling him away. Then again, clean up the spot without saying a word.
  • We love those exuberant puppy greetings when we return home. But if Puppy wets during homecomings, you need to IGNORE the little guy—at least at first. Walk through the door and ignore puppy for ten minutes to give him time to calm down. Turn your back and walk away without speaking to him. Paying attention to ANY of the other dogs nearby also could prompt the puppy to wet, so delay your greetings.
  • A big hand coming down toward a small puppy’s head looks intimidating. That’s what pushy dogs do using chin rest and body leanings to prove their status to other canines. So instead of head pats, learn how to pet your puppy so it doesn't intimidate him. Scratch his chest or beneath his chin but only after he’s calmed down.
  • Try a softer, gentler voice. Avoid baby talk, and be matter of act. Sometimes confident people and especially men with low voices sound gruff without meaning to and that can turn on the puppy pee-works.
  • Avoid “looming” over top of a puppy. Instead, give your puppy space and some busy work for his brain to think so he’s distracted from feeling submissive.
  • Rather than standing still, back away from the puppy while you ask him to COME and then SIT. As soon as he does, back away and repeat the COME and SIT practice. Have the other dogs practice obedience and reward them, too, to give the puppy a good role model to copy.
  • Keep backing up, ignore the “wet” sits, and gently praise and offer food rewards for dry sits so your pup learns that NOT wetting prompts the payday.

Be patient and understanding. In time, almost all puppies outgrow this behavior. And then you can greet each other with the happy expressions you've saved up along the way.

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