While it is generally a good thing when your pet views you as the leader of the pack, this can sometimes lead to undesirable behaviors, especially in timid dogs. Submissive urination is one of the unfortunate side-effects, but luckily, the behavior can be relatively easy to fix.
Submissive urination often occurs in puppies, but can persist into adulthood. It happens when the pet is frightened or insecure, or when greeted or picked up. It’s not a housebreaking issue; submissive urination is your pup’s way of accepting you as the top dog. In packs of wild dogs, submission is shown by rolling over and urinating, and it is in this way that your dog is conceding that you are dominant.
Thankfully, most puppies will outgrow submissive urination. Keep in mind, though, that submissive urination is not the same thing as excitement urination, which can occur throughout your dog’s life if not addressed.
The key to stopping submissive urination is to recognize that it’s the behavior of an insecure pup. Using might or force to try to correct the problem will frighten your pet and will only make it worse. Instead, training the timid dog needs to center on positive reinforcement - even when you are correcting unwanted behavior. Never punish your dog for submissive urination, because it is an uncontrollable instinct.
When you first come home, greet your dog very calmly. Don’t use an excited tone, and don’t make eye contact or bend over your pet, which are activities that your dog will perceive as dominant. In fact, the best course of action is to just ignore your pet’s excited greeting and get him outside immediately (yet calmly). After he has done his business, you can then greet him, praising him for doing a good job. Young puppies may not fully understand what praise is, so it may be helpful to use small treats in conjunction with praise to get your point across.
If submissive urination is occurring at other times, try stopping your pet in her tracks to curb the behavior. If you can predict what kind of events generally lead to submissive urination, you may be able to head it off. While it is best to avoid the kinds of situations that lead to submissive urination, this is not always practical. Just do your best to remain non-threatening to your pet. Avoid eye contact and crouch down next to your dog rather than bending over him when interacting or petting him.
You’ll also find it helpful to work on boosting your timid dog’s confidence. Teach your dog basic obedience commands, such as “sit” and “stay”. Dogs love having jobs, and to them, simple things like being put in a “Sit-Stay” are considered jobs to them and bolster their confidence.
Timid dogs can be a challenge to train because of their sensitivity. Remember to center your training on positive reinforcement. If your dog just seems too timid, talk to your veterinarian about the possibility of using behavior medications to facilitate early training.
Submissive urination is a frustrating behavior, but it not impossible to correct. Luckily, most puppies outgrow it with a little time and encouragement. Your best bet for beating it is, in the words of the old British morale-boosting poster, “Keep calm and carry on!”