When dogs get excited, they’ll likely wag their tail. They might also leave behind a small puddle of pee. It’s an instinctual, physical response called submissive urination, and it’s normal in young dogs.
Submissive urination typically happens whenever a dog feels excited, shy, anxious, or scared. It also happens when a dog wants to acknowledge another’s dominance — like recognizing you as their owner.
Submissive urination is equally common in female and male dogs, especially if they’re puppies. Dogs tend to outgrow this behavior over time. If your dog is urinating when someone approaches and says hello, when they’re in trouble or being scolded, when they’re crouching or showing their belly, or when they hear loud noises, these are signs that your dog’s inappropriate urination is submissive. Training them to stop can help speed up the process.
Medical Causes of Inappropriate Urination
If you suspect your dog’s urination is not related to submission, it’s important to rule out other causes before attempting to correct the behavior.
What you consider an accident may be a symptom of something your dog can’t control. Causes may include:
- Change in diet. If your dog is eating or drinking more or less than usual, their bathroom habits will also change.
- Urinary incontinence. Your dog may not have the ability to “hold it” when they need to pass urine. They may also have a weak bladder.
- Urinary tract infection (UTI). A UTI can cause your dog to pass urine without realizing it.
If your dog is having trouble with inappropriate urination, talk to your vet to see if testing or treatment may be needed to rule out underlying medical causes.
Submissive Urination as a Behavioral Issue
Puppies and young dogs are most likely to inappropriately urinate because they haven’t learned to control the urge to pee. These dogs are acting instinctively, which makes this a behavioral issue and not a medical one. A few factors can contribute to this:
- Age. If your dog is younger than 12 weeks, they’re more likely to urinate in submission, to show they know they’re not the leader. Puppies often grow out of this. Puppies also simply may not have the ability to control their urine yet. Through housetraining, they’ll learn the signs of needing to pee and can improve their ability to hold it.
- Incomplete housetraining. If you adopt a dog that’s older than 12 weeks, they may simply not be trained properly. This includes not knowing when and where it’s acceptable to urinate. Adopted dogs may not always understand the rules in their new home, which can lead to submissive urination out of insecurity.
- Fear from past bad experiences. Some dogs have a history of being punished inappropriately, and they’re attempting to show they recognize you as the leader to avoid punishment.
- Separation anxiety. Your dog misses you when you’re away. If they think you’re going to leave soon, they may pass urine out of emotional distress at being left. When you come back, your dog may pee out of excitement, which is different from submissive urination but is also related to their insecurity when you leave.
One closely related but different behavioral issue to watch out for is urine marking. Many dogs pass urine as a way of marking territory and attempting to express dominance, which is the opposite of submissive urination. This tells other dogs that the person or property “belongs” to them.
Because instinct triggers urinating as a physical response, training your dog can make a difference.
Training Your Dog to Stop Submissive Urination
Your dog will outgrow the urge to submissively urinate as they grow older. Training dogs when they’re young can help them learn more quickly.
Dogs typically cower or lower their bodies when they feel the urge to urinate submissively. They might also:
- Raise their front paws
- Tuck in their tails
- Flatten their ears back
If you catch your dog acting this way, redirect their attention immediately. Here’s what you can do:
- Take your dog outside to help them make a connection with this being the place to pee.
- If you’re returning home, give your dog a treat to distract them and give them something productive to do with their excited energy.
- Keep your greetings modest and calm so your dog doesn’t interpret them as acts of dominance.
- Teach your dog to “sit” or “shake” when they greet new people, and reward them for it.
What Not to Do
When you’re training your dog to stop submissively urinating, your commands should be positive, consistent, and encouraging.
- Don’t scowl or frown at your dog. This negative response might scare or confuse your dog, which can make the behavior worse.
- Don’t make angry or frustrated comments. Doing so might also scare or confuse your dog, which can make them continue peeing in submission. Dogs respond well to positive reinforcement.
- Don’t avoid interacting with your dog during submissive urination episodes. If you simply walk away, your dog won’t understand your response to this behavior. Instead, try to redirect their attention and build their confidence using commands they do know.
If you think you need help teaching your dog to stop this unwanted behavior, consider contacting a dog trainer who can help you learn more about submissive urination.