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Submissive urination is a common behavior in animals who are accustomed to living in groups or packs. It is a way for lower-ranking animals to express submission and deference to higher-ranking animals. Humans most often come in contact with submissive urination in the context of dogs, especially puppies. This behavior can be very frustrating for dog owners, but there are fortunately a number of ways in which it can be addressed.
Some people confuse submissive urination and excitement urination in dogs. Submissive urination occurs when a dog feels threatened, and wants to indicate that he or she cedes control to the threat. To indicate submission, dogs will often try averting their eyes and rolling over to expose their stomachs before eventually urinating. Excitement urination occurs in puppies who do not yet have control of their bladders. A dog who pees while jumping on houseguests is exhibiting excitement urination, while a dog who pees after a scolding is demonstrating a textbook case of submissive wetting.
If a dog displays either behavior, it is important to go to a veterinarian to eliminate a medical cause for the behavior. Once the veterinarian has established that a dog is healthy, in the case of excitement urination, the behavior will eventually resolve as the dog gains muscle control. Keeping young dogs outside and downplaying greetings can help reduce the behavior until the dog is older.
In the case of submissive urination, owners have to handle their dogs in a way which encourages self-confidence, so that the dogs do not feel the need to urinate out of fear or nervousness. When owners arrive home, they should initially ignore a dog, eventually crouching to greet the dog, and avoiding eye contact and excessive physical contact during initial greetings. Looming over a dog or handling a dog can encourage submissive urination, because the dog will view these behaviors as dominant and aggressive.
Guests to the house should be encouraged to follow the lead of the dog's owner. In the first month or so of training, it is also a good idea to avoid extravagant emotional displays, as intense emotions may frighten the dog. It is especially important to avoid physically or verbally scolding the dog, because these activities will actually reinforce the submissive urination behavior. Instead, owners should provide positive reinforcement in the form of a kind word or treat when the dog behaves well, sticking to a single, sharp, “NO” when the dog does something inappropriate, such as jumping on someone.
The important thing to remember with dog training is that it needs to be consistent. When working with a dog who displays submissive urination behavior, owners must work slowly and carefully to promote the dog's self esteem, and guests should be asked to respect the owner's training program. If guests disregard the owner's directions or they are too young to understand the purpose of the training program, it may be advisable to crate the dog so that the animal does not receive mixed messages during his or her critically formative training period.