Karen B. London
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To Pee or Not to Pee
What your puppy’s urination patterns reveal.
Bhudan squats before peeing. Good boy!

Submissive urination is a common problem among sweet young puppies. A lot of people’s evening routines involve getting off work, driving home, coming inside the house and then getting down on their hands and knees to clean up the lines and droplets of urine that their puppy made while wiggling her body and wagging her tail with great enthusiasm. Some dogs who are otherwise completely housetrained release at least some of the contents of their bladder during greetings. This is not a housetraining problem. It’s a social issue.

There is good news if you have a puppy who does this. First, most dogs outgrow this behavior by the time they are a year old, so at least it tends to be temporary. Second, dogs with this issue almost always have lovely sweet temperaments, so while the urination can be irritating and a pain to clean up, the fact that dogs greet in this manner actually speaks well of them. Ironically, this urination during greetings is showing respect for the other dog or person, and a dog who is behaving respectfully is a dog who tends to be polite and biddable. In other words, when people tell me they have a puppy who does this, I am torn between expressing sympathy to them for the inconvenience they are dealing with now and saying “Congratulations!” with a hearty smile because I think they are likely to have many years ahead of them with a dog who brings them nothing but joy.

In contrast to feeling hopeful about dogs who are submissive urinators, a little red flag goes off in my mind when I hear people say that their dog was so easy to house train that there were only one or two accidents ever and she totally got it by 8-10 weeks old. It’s just an observation that many dogs who later go on to have issues with aggression were housetrained early and easily. This is just an impression I have based on my own experience with clients and their dogs, though it is shared by several other trainers and behaviorists with whom I have discussed it. There are no solid data on the subject. Also, this does not apply to people who prevented accidents with top-notch housetraining methods. Many dogs have very few accidents because the people are on top of the situation. This is commendable, but does not mean the dog really gets it yet—just that she is not being allowed to make mistakes. I’m only referring to dogs who really are housetrained at an early age and no longer require the constant vigilance of the people in the household to prevent mistakes.

What’s your experience? Did you have a dog who urinated submissively that fit the pattern I observed of being a sweet biddable dog, or did you have an exception? Do you know of a dog who was housetrained with far less than the usual effort who later had aggression issues, or did you know an exception to that, too? As a scientist, I love the patterns, and I love the exceptions, too.


Karen B. London, PhD, is a Bark columnist and a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist specializing in the evaluation and treatment of serious behavior problems in the domestic dog.

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Submitted by Joy | August 21 2009 |

My dog was very easy to housetrain - I was shocked. She had a few accidents, but was otherwise a breeze. We had no problem with aggression toward humans (or cats and squirrels!), but we had many problems with aggression toward other dogs, despite attempts over the years to correct her socialization. Thankfully, she's obedient to humans and has never caused damage. She's a pretty old dog now and has mellowed to the point where her aggression toward other dogs is now a narrowed eye and a rough growl.

Submitted by Anonymous | August 22 2009 |

I have one dog who fits the pattern- a sweet submissive girl. My other dog is a bit trickier- he was a breeze to housetrain, does have aggressive tendencies at times, but also submissively urinated every once in a while (less frequently than my other dog). What an interesting observation, thanks for sharing!

Submitted by Anonymous | August 26 2009 |

In 1987 I brought home an American Eskimo dog from a pet shop. The moment I met her in the pet shop, she greeted me with a puddle. At that time I was inexperienced with dogs (cat person) and wasn't sure what submissive urination was all about. I brought the 4 month old female puppy home to live with my family (my husband and 2 very young children) and we named her Taxi. We quickly found out that no one could greet Taxi without getting a puddle on the floor or outside. And yet, Taxi was very easily housetrained. It didn't make sense to us. Here was a dog who knew when she needed to get outside to urinate, but as soon as a person greeted her, we'd be running out with the paper towels. At the same time, aggression issues began to crop up within a few weeks of bringing Taxi home. She loved our family but she hated males, hated men and boys wearing hats, didn't like other dogs, but lived fine with our cats. We learned a lot with Taxi and yet would have helped her far more today, if we knew what we know now about dog behavior. We loved Taxi and she was a devoted and very loving dog to us. It took her about 2-3 years to completely stop the submissive urination and longer to quit being ornery around certain people and dogs. Taxi died in 2003 and we miss her to this day. We have two new dogs now and have gained experience after living with Taxi--kind of like raising kids, but getting another chance at the basics and starting over again....PS the new dogs took longer to housetrain and do not have aggression issues, BTW.

Submitted by Tara in Denver | August 27 2009 |

In my experience, with my own dogs and dogs I have fostered through rescue, is this: dogs raised outside tend to naturally understand house training and pick up the skill quickly (if they ever make a mistake). None of them, in my experiences, have gone on to have any aggression issues - not even close! Whether it is my girl, Cheyene, that was whelped and raised by her mother in a barn stall that I never truly worked on potty training with. Or a 1 1/2 old rescue that was raised 'feral' in an outdoor hoarding situation that still, after 1 1/2 months has not pottied in the house. Both dogs intuitively do their business outside. The rescue dog will immediately elimate upon getting to grass, not in the house, not in her crate, nor on the sidewalk - on grass.
My take on it is that it is habit, the are used to eliminating where urine does not tend to 'stand', it absorbs into the ground and is therefore less of an issue as far as cleanliness. If they potty in the house they must avoid the spot to avoid smelling like urine. This obviously is not the case for nursing puppies - they don't care if they are dirty. Once a puppy is (this is a guess) 3 months old or older they don't like stinking. You do have to still either be totally on top of it, or have a doggie door giving them free access to elimination areas, to keep them from making a habit of going in the house.

Submitted by Linda | August 27 2009 |

I have 2 dogs, and they fit each one of the patterns described. My older dog came from the shelter as a 7-week old puppy. She was very easy to house-train. She is good with people, but quite dog-aggressive.

My other dog, a mix who I found abandoned in a parking lot, was a submissive urinator for about a year or two. He still does urinate in stressful situations, like at the vet's office. But he loves other dogs and the cats. He will snuggle up to anybody he can for loving & petting.

Submitted by Michele | August 30 2009 |

My only experience with urination "issues" is my male neutered Rottweiler, (who is exceptionally smart of course). He has had submissive peeing issues that have persisted since he was 6 months old, he is now 5. Many experts told us he would outgrow it, both veterinary and behavioral. "Just ignore it and it will go away" we were told. For the most part he is fine, but we still have to bring out the "pants" if certain tall men or women with high, squeeky voices come over to visit. Rarely he will still do this when I or my husband greet him, but we have learned to keep things low key. He fits the profile of many rottweilers, some that unfortunately end up in the wrong hands, who could have gone to the fearful, growly side if he were not raised with patience, love and positive reinforcement.
Within our pack, he throws his weight around to maintain dominance, but is trustworthy with other dogs. Interestingly, he puts a high value on scent marking things outside/on walks.

Submitted by Anonymous | September 11 2009 |

Abbott (Golden) came home with us at exactly 8 weeks - NEVER messed in the house. He does tend to jump instead. But he does Pee at the vet. I was vigilant in the beginning. He is not aggressive toward anything/anyone.

Riddle was adopted from an outdoor shelter expeience. And SHE NEVER WENT IN THE HOUSE, except one time when we figured she was mad at us. Then she urinated on our bed. Actually, she will usually not eliminate anywhere except our yard. Even on walks. We are afraid she will explode on vacation! She is female dog aggressive and also pees at the vet. But she loves puppies of any sex and quickly takes over the mother role. She also covers (with foot scrapes) after every elimination. She really wants to be the alpha dog - and I am adimant that that is my role.

From my experience, if you ignore the dogs antics upon arriving in the house, and direct them to the next task - peeing in the yard - then that is what they will be programmed to do upon your arrival next time.

Submitted by Tyson's Mommy | September 18 2009 |

When I lost my job last summer, I had the good fortune to foster 2 four week old pit mix puppies for a local shelter. Both were submissive urinators. Naturally, because a 4 week old puppy is tiny and hilariously cute, they had a ton of people buddies (which equated to lots of submissive oopsies). The only aggression I ever saw them express was at each other. The female pup was adopted out permanently at 3 months old. The male, after being adopted out, was returned to me for supposed "food aggression" and "jealously" issues. We adopted him and have never had a single issue. He is, however, easily spooked, and will bark fiercely rather than pee. Your logic about personality patterns being linked with submissive urination jives, however on a personal note, I would rather have a dog who's bark is more fierce than his non-existent bite than one who pees every time the doorbell rings. :)

Submitted by Linda C | September 19 2009 |

What an interesting observation: Easy to housetrain... then what lies ahead? Perhaps it is a sign of a more focused pup who has an immediate sense of her "den area?" A more focused pup who thinks too much and goes on to worry about the world in which she lives and how much she should/could control?

In the past I provided pet adoptions. If a dog arrived, hopped out of the car and submissive wet, I would immediately think "What a relief! A sensitive dog that's communicating. It is a GOOD DOG." In dealing with many thousands of puppies/dogs over the years and perhaps hundreds with initial submissive wetting, I have found it to an essentially solvable problem, especially if the dog is food orientated. Simply drop tasty food on the floor, with a quiet "food on the floor" cue of some sort. The dog looks down to eat the food and doesn't need to perform that (in dog culture) very polite greating behavior. When wolf family mom returns, she usually feeds the pups, right?

One poor girl who had been repeatly "whipped" in her previous home for submissive wetting was a particularly severe case. She would wait, clean and dry, in her bed all night, only to flood the crate when I came into view in the doorway of the room. I learned to walk backwards into the room, dropping bait all the way and rustling the jerky treat bag, open the crate door by the Braille method behind my knees and release her. She would scamper around eating the treats, and then follow the trail of treats out the door to more treats outside. No more submissive wetting!

When she went to a new home without a fenced yard, her new family initally keep a short lead on her. While she was still finding the treats, they could step on the end of the leash and add a longer lead for the walk outside to go potty.

Submitted by Jenny H | January 30 2010 |

I have never noticed any correlation at all!

I think that toilet training and submissive urination are completely different things.

I've had a bitch who was easy-peasy to house train except that she was a submissive urinator. And she was always aggressive towards other bitches.

I've had a bitch who was a bu**er to house/toilet train, who never peed submissively and although good with people and other animals she was highly aggressive to other dogs (male and female)
I've had a dog who was always perfect with regards to house training, never submissively urinated and was not at all aggressive to anything.

All of these dogs are German Shepherds.

I've had aggressive German Shepherds -- until I 'crossed over' to positive training and learned to protect my dogs from things they found fearful/stressful. This rearing method has also minimised any submissive urination which I see in the dogs. (Baby puppies do it, but they outgrow it before adulthood.)

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