A dog may submissively urinate when she feels threatened or when meeting a stranger and wanting to demonstrate that she is not a threat. Submissive wetting generally occurs in dogs who are shy or timid or in dogs that have been handled roughly or abused. It is not a lapse in house-training; it is an appeasement gesture that basically says “please don’t hurt me.”
To differentiate between submissive wetting and excitement wetting, consider the circumstances and the dog’s posture. Submissive urination is the diagnosis if the behavior occurs:
- When the dog is being yelled at or punished
- If the dog believes she is about to be yelled at or punished
- During greetings, especially with strangers or men
- When the dog is approached straight-on
- While the dog is crouching, her head is down and her tail is tucked
To prevent submissive urination, approach the dog with your hip toward her (so you are walking sideways) rather than head-on. This is a less confrontational approach for dogs. Or don’t approach at all; simply squat down and encourage the dog to approach you. Speak softly and avoid directly staring at the dog. Keep movements slow and small.
Build the shy dog’s confidence through training using positive reinforcement and no punishment. Trick training can be especially valuable as owners tend to be more relaxed when teaching tricks rather than obedience, which makes the dog more comfortable.
Playing tug-of-war is another terrific way to build confidence. Allowing the dog to “win” helps to improve her self-esteem.
Never punish a dog for submissive urinating. Doing so will only make the dog more anxious and more likely to repeat the behavior. Simply clean up with an enzymatic cleaner and try to avoid putting the dog into the same situation.
Finally, it is important to remember that submissive wetting is a result of a dog’s perception. You may know that you mean no harm but a dog’s past experiences and own personality may lead her not be so sure. You cannot reason with a dog and explain that you aren’t a threat. This is definitely a case in which actions speak louder than words.