When I adopted my dog Rusty from a shelter at age 8 months it didn’t take me 5 minutes to recognize that he was a submissive urinator. When he greeted me, my wife, or strangers at the door, he would wiggle like a worm – in pure pleasure – as he dribbled urine in interesting and extensive patterns on the hardwood floor.
I knew what that meant – it was really a great compliment; a sign of excitement and flat out respect – but peeing on greeting was not a routine I relished.
Having to get down on your knees and mop up urine every time I came home – or someone came to my house – became quite tedious after a surprisingly short time. Enough already, I was thought to myself and implemented the program outlined below. Sure I was happy to be his fearless master, (in his mind) one to be worshiped and kowtowed to, but I did not want or need such extreme supplication every time I came home.
Submissive urination is a behavior problem that some people just can’t or won’t tolerate. It can even lead to dogs being surrendered to a shelter – or returned post-adoption – yet is so simple to fix.
Here’s how to deal with it:
1. Do not walk directly toward the dog when entering the home or approaching it.
2. Do not look directly into the dogs eyes as direct eye contact is often construed as a challenge or threat by a dog.
3. Do not lean or loom over the dog as this action constitutes a challenge. Remain upright and simply ignore the little feller.
4. Do not reach for the dog’s collar or scruff. That will really intimidate the “you-know-what” out of him.
5. Build your dog’s confidence. I do this using what I call a “reverse dominance program.”
6. For really tough cases, medicines to tighten bladder sphincters can be employed (similar to the ones used to treat bed wetting in children) so that leaking urine is less likely.
Submissive urination should never be interpreted as an act of defiance, because it’s not. Quite the reverse, in fact. It’s clearly not the same as routine house soiling — when dogs have simply not been properly trained to “go” outside. And can’t be trained away using the usual “house breaking” methods. I saw a cartoon that explained submissive urination in a nutshell. The drawing showed a dog on the psychiatrist’s couch saying, “If I’m being honest with myself, they’re not really accidents.” And that’s the way it is with submissive urination – no accident, just sending a signal of respect and deference.
Dr. Dodman is a Professor in the Department of Clinical Sciences at Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine and Director of the school’s Animal Behavior Clinic. He is also Chief Scientific Officer for the CENTER FOR CANINE BEHAVIOR STUDIES. He has written over 100 scientific articles and several popular press books, including The Dog Who Loved Too Much and The Cat Who Cried for Help.