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.