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Submissive Urination in Dogs

ASPCA logoSubmissive urination is normal canine communication. Dogs do it to show social appeasement. When a dog submissively urinates, he’s trying to convey that he’s not a threat. Not all dogs submissively urinate. However, some will urinate when they’re exceptionally excited or feeling submissive or intimidated. Dogs who submissively urinate usually do so when greeting people or animals (especially unfamiliar ones), during exciting events, while playing, during physical contact, such as petting, or when scolded or punished. It’s as though they lose bladder control. Some dogs produce dribbles of urine, while others void large puddles.

When in a situation that seems to trigger submissive urination, a dog will tend to display submissive postures, such as cowering, lowering the body, raising the front paws, tucking the tail, flattening the ears back, licking the lips or displaying a submissive grin. (Although a submissive grin often looks like aggression because it involves a dog showing his teeth, it’s not really a threat. The submissive grin, which is almost always accompanied by other signs of submission like those listed above, functions as an appeasement gesture. Many dogs display submissive grins while wiggling, squinting their eyes and licking their lips. Like submissive urination, this behavior often occurs during greetings and sometimes during stressful social interactions with people.)

Submissive urination is most common in puppies, but some adult dogs submissively urinate as well, especially those who seem to lack confidence. The behavior is more common in some breeds than others, such as retrievers. Some dogs submissively urinate only when interacting with their pet parents, some only with visitors, some only with other dogs, and some with everyone.

Rule Out Possible Medical Causes First

If your dog urinates indoors or at inappropriate times, it’s important to visit his veterinarian to rule out medical causes before doing anything else. Some common medical reasons for inappropriate urination and defecation follow.

Gastrointestinal Upset (Medical)

If your dog was house trained but now defecates loose stools or diarrhea in your house, he may have gastrointestinal upset.

Change in Diet (Medical)

If you’ve recently changed the amount or type of food you give your dog, he may develop a house-soiling problem. Often, after a diet change, a dog will defecate loose stools or diarrhea. He may also need to eliminate more frequently or on a different schedule than before the change.

Spay/Urinary Incontinence (Medical)

Some dogs’ house soiling is caused by incontinence, a medical condition in which a dog “leaks” or completely voids the bladder. Dogs with incontinence problems usually seem unaware that they’ve soiled. Sometimes they void urine while asleep.

Urinary Tract Infection (Medical)

A urinary tract infection (UTI) can cause a dog to void small amounts of urine frequently. In addition, a dog who has a UTI might engage in excessive licking of his genitalia.

Miscellaneous Medical Causes

Other medical reasons for house soiling are abnormalities of the genitalia that cause incontinence, diseases that cause frequent urination, and medications that cause frequent urination. These and all other medical causes should be ruled out before evaluating or treating a dog for submissive urination problems.

WebMD Veterinary Reference from ASPCA Virtual Pet Behaviorist

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