Submissive Urination In Dogs

Inappropriate urination is a common problem we treat in veterinary medicine.  People have little tolerance for a dog who leaves a puddle on the floor every time they enter the room.  I have to admit, I also find it annoying when dogs flood the exam table and then try to place their wet paws on my face . . . yuck!  My first step in dealing with these patients is to rule out medical causes for the behavior.  If the blood work and urine sample are within normal limits, then I focus my attention on psychological causes.  From a thorough history, I can usually tell if it is a marking behavior, a surface preference, cognitive dysfunction syndrome, a break in house training or some form of anxiety-induced behavior such as submissive urination.  Each requires a unique treatment plan so it is vital to make the correct diagnosis. 

For me, the most difficult cause of inappropriate urination to address is submissive behavior.  Not because of the dog, but because of the people.  It is very hard to train some people!  The following are my tips for controlling this problem:

1)  Make sure it is submissive urination, not excitement urination.  Dogs who suffer from submissive urination may tuck their tails between their legs, cower, flatten their ears against their head, roll on to their side or back, avoid eye contact or grin.  Dogs with excitement urination display none of these signs.  These animals love to interact with people.  They get so excited that they lose their sphincter control. 
2)  Avoid threatening or aggressive gestures to the dog.  These include petting the top of the dog’s head, speaking in a loud or deep voice, staring into their eyes or yelling at the dog. 
3)  Be extremely careful with punishment.  Many owners unknowingly cause their dog’s problem  through stern punishment.  The dog does not understand why you are putting their nose in the urine.  Instead of learning not to have an accident, they learn to be anxious around the person who punishes them. 
4)  I advise people to ignore dogs with this problem when they return home.  Take five minutes to put your stuff away or change clothes before acknowledging the dog.  Take them outside to empty their bladder before you interact with them.  Sit or lie on the floor to look less threatening.  Let the dog come to you when they are ready.  Do not force them.  When they approach, speak in a soft voice, pet them on their rump or under their chin.  Some will choose to reward the dog with a treat.  Once they are comfortable, slowly desensitize them to the gestures that used to threaten them. 
5)  Place a DAP diffuser in the area where the submissive urination takes place to help calm down the dog.
6)  Work on obedience with the dog.  Dogs are less anxious when they know what to do.  When my dog gets anxious I order him to sit and stay.  He focuses on the command instead of his fear. 
7)  The really tough cases might need an anxiolytic drug to break the cycle.  Talk to your veterinarian before giving any medication to your pet.

Remember, sometimes we humans exacerbate the problem through our behavior!  Try and think from the dog’s perspective.  Change the verbal and non-verbal clues you exhibit to succeed with the difficult challenge of submissive urination.

Published by kristennelsondvm

Dr. Kristen Nelson grew up on a farm in Watertown, Minn., where she developed a deep love for animals of all kinds. She received a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree from the University of Minnesota, College of Veterinary Medicine. Kris then completed a small-animal internship at the prestigious Animal Medical Center in New York City. In addition to writing and speaking, she cares for small and exotic animals in Scottsdale, Az. Dr. Nelson is widely quoted in the media. Her credits include Ladies’ Home Journal, USA TODAY, the Los Angeles Times and numerous radio and television interviews. Dr. Nelson has written two books, Coated With Fur: A Vet’s Life and Coated With Fur: A Blind Cat’s Love. Kris and her husband Steve share their home with rescued cats, birds and a dog.