Dog Behavior Problems: Submissive, Excitement, and Conflict Urination

Why does my dog urinate when he meets new people?

Greetings are highly emotional times for dogs. Some dogs are slightly uneasy and exhibit a range of appeasing postures during greetings, sometimes called submissive postures. They may turn their body into a U shape, lower their body into a crouch, lift their lips into a grin, and/or pull their ears back. They may also urinate. This is often called “submissive urination”.

Other dogs are very excited about meeting people. They may leap into the air or spin in circles. They may also urinate. This is referred to as “excitement-related urination”.

It is important to recognize that neither submissive nor excitement-related urination is done deliberately. Your dog has little or no conscious control of the behavior. Scolding will almost certainly make things worse: whether your dog is super happy or a bit worried, scolding will intensify the emotional response. Treatment involves addressing the emotion related to the social interaction.

"Treatment involves addressing the emotion related to the social interaction."

Submissive and excitement-related urination are most common in very young, socially inexperienced dogs. To prevent the behavior from occurring or escalating, it is important to manage the intensity of the greeting. Boisterous greetings and outstretched arms can be overwhelming and can trigger high levels of excitement, emotional conflict, or fear. Ask your friends to remain calm and quiet when greeting your dog. They should keep their voices somewhat neutral.

It is helpful to understand how a person’s body language can affect a dog’s emotions. Some natural human behaviors are threatening or intimidating to dogs. For example, dogs are sensitive to being stared at and might respond with submissive behaviors, including urination. Though dog-lovers mean well when they reach for or lean over a dog, sometimes even offering a kiss or hug, these gestures are also inappropriate from a dog’s point of view. Dogs prefer to approach people at their own pace and are most relaxed when contact is limited to one-handed pets.

How can submissive and excitement-related urination be treated?

The best way to reduce submissive and excitement-related urination is to teach your dog to wait patiently and to greet people only when invited. When guests arrive, invite them to come in and take their seats. Meanwhile, keep your dog beside you, at the other side of the room. Hold her leash and feed her treats to help her settle. It may take her 5 minutes or more to be fully settled.

Then, when she is calm, she may be released to visit the guest. Be sure the guest remains calm and does not encourage your dog to be excited. If you suspect that your dog will rush over and then jump up or urinate, walk over with her. As she gets close to the guest, the guest can extend an arm with a treat in hand and quietly ask your dog to sit. Soon your dog will learn to walk over to guests and sit politely. This will create a predictable, safe interaction that is less likely to trigger urination. To avoid any mess indoors, you may try to greet outside instead.

It is helpful to teach dogs to “go say hi” only when invited. You will need a training partner for this exercise. To begin, ask your dog to sit beside you; you can give some treats to keep her attention. Then, when she is calmly focused on you, calmly point toward your training partner. Your partner should have a clearly visible treat in hand. As soon as your dog notices the treat, calmly release her to “go say hi”. As she approaches your assistant, they should ask the dog to “sit” and reward. If your dog remains calm, the assistant can also offer some gentle one-handed pets. Then, call your dog back, ask her to sit, reward, and try again. After a few sessions, your dog will begin to approach people and sit quietly, waiting for a treat.

What can I do if my dog is very excited and urinates when I return home?

Your dog is probably as happy to see you as you are to see her! But if your dog’s enthusiasm is accompanied by urination, then it will be necessary to tone down the greeting. It is important that you do not scold your dog if she sprays some urine when you enter. Scolding increases emotional conflict, which in turn can change the behavior from excitement-related urination to submissive urination. Resolution of the behavior requires resolution of conflict.

As discussed in the previous section, it is important to stay calm. If possible, try sitting in a chair and, as your dog approaches, avoid direct eye contact, keep your voice quiet, and use gentle one-handed pets. If you have a fenced yard, you can step outside and sit quietly in a chair.

One helpful skill is “go to the mat”. It is important to train this foundation skill when your dog is calm. She will be too excited to learn a new behavior in the midst of a greeting.

To begin, set the mat a few feet away. Train her to go to the mat and to remain there until you release her.

  1. Hold a treat and walk with your dog to the mat. Reward her at the mat.
  2. Repeat the sequence until your dog runs ahead of you to get to the mat, knowing she will earn the reward.
  3. Once your dog understands the behavior, you may add the verbal cue “mat”. Just as she leaves your side to trot to the mat, say “mat”. Walk with her and reward.
  4. Finally, practice sending her from different areas and angles. Include sending her while you stand at the front door and then as you step outside and enter the house.
  5. The last step is to begin to randomly delay the treat. Your dog can learn to wait patiently for a full minute. You can also use a “Treat and Train” remote-operated treat dispenser to reinforce a “stay” at the mat.

Once your dog has learned she gets treats for running to her mat, you can begin to incorporate the mat into the greeting. At first, when you enter the house, have a great treat in hand and walk with your dog to the mat. If you are using the “Treat and Train”, you can enter and immediately push the remote. Your dog will recognize the sound and run to her mat. Have your dog remain on the mat, rewarding with treats and quiet words, until she is calm and ready to interact with you without urinating.

A variation of the training is to teach your dog to get a special toy the moment you enter the house. Choose a toy that is interactive – a ball to fetch or a fleece to tug. Your dog can learn to get the toy and bring it to the mat to wait for you to release her for a game, or she can bring it directly to you.

"Be consistent so that greetings are predictable for your dog."

Be consistent so that greetings are predictable for your dog. Using a “stay, relax”, whether on a leash by your side or on a mat, gives your dog a chance to gain comfort and confidence. You can use the same training skills when guests arrive. Work to get a longer and more focused settle response.

Could there be a medical reason for the behavior?

In rare cases, urination during greetings can be related to insufficient urinary sphincter tone. Other signs can include resting incontinence and urination with the absence of emotional stimulation. Your veterinarian may prescribe medication to strengthen the urinary sphincter muscle.

If your dog’s urination during greetings escalates after treatment, consider consulting a veterinary behaviorist who can assess and treat the underlying emotions. Additional behavior modification or medication may be indicated.