I got a call the other day from a friend who was calling on behalf of his friend. He wanted to know what to tell his friend whose puppy urinates (or pees) every time someone reaches to pet her.
The first thing to be done was to distinguish between submissive urination and excitement urination. Sweetie, my Rottweiler who I have written about before, had excitement urination. As you can imagine, when she had an episode the puddle was huge! She only did this with her very best doggie and human friends.
Dogs who exhibit excitement urination do not show submissive body language. For example, Sweetie’s entire body would be wiggling and jiggling around with happiness as she urinated on the floor. This would inevitably cause the urine to go spraying everywhere! Dogs who urinate submissively show obvious fearful or submissive body language during the episode.
If your puppy leaks urine at other times as well such as when she is sleeping, or she seems to have an inability to hold her urine in the amount of time that is consistent with her age, she may have a medical disorder such as ectopic ureter, renal insufficiency, or inadequate urethral sphincter tone, and should see her veterinarian for a medical work-up.
Submissive urination can be exhibited in any age of dog. However, it is commonly seen in puppies. Generally, affected puppies submissively urinate when they are reached for, when someone leans over them, or when they are scolded. The behavior can be triggered by a stranger or by the owners. Affected puppies may appear comfortable and friendly in the beginning. They often start the approach toward the person. However, when the interactions with the person get too scary they immediately show submissive behavior.
To understand this better you have to understand dog body language. As a puppy shows fear, she will run through the different levels of body language signaling. If the puppy receives adequate feedback and feels safe, she may stop with just one signal. If she doesn’t, she will keep exhibiting more obvious signals until she feels like she is safe. To start with, she will probably stop her forward motion. Then she may put her ears back, pull her lips back, lower her head below her topline, lower her body toward the ground, and then finally roll over onto her side exposing her inguinal region. Some puppies will roll all the way over onto their back.
At some point during this display, puppies with submissive urination will leak a variable amount of urine. As you can imagine, this can be a very embarrassing problem. The key to dealing with this behavior is to prevent it in the first place and to decrease your puppy’s fear of people. The following tips should be helpful for decreasing submissive urination.
- Control your friends. Ask your friends to come in calmly and greet your puppy with a soft tone of voice.
- Take your puppy out first. Ten minutes before you expect visitors, take your puppy outside to eliminate. If the submissive urination is triggered when you come home, make sure to walk in calmly and take your puppy outside immediately before you greet her.
- Teach your puppy what to expect. If you regularly read this blog, you know that I am a big proponent of asking your puppy to sit for all attention. This is not just an obedience exercise, it teaches your puppy that interactions with people are infinitely predictable. Most puppies never know what to expect when someone approaches. In a world where a puppy has to sit for all attention, people never interact with your puppy unless she is sitting first.
- Ask your visitors to crouch down and pet your puppy underneath the chin or on the chest instead of over her head.
- As soon as the puppy shows a sign of fear, the person should back away.
- If you are in the habit of yelling at your pup for indiscretions, control yourself or you will only make the submissive urination worse. Besides, yelling at your dog isn’t nice.
Most pups with problems with a submissive urination problem improve with proper treatment, so don’t despair, just get to work!
Dr. Lisa Radosta
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