Submissive Urination (Incontinence) in Dogs

What is submissive urination?

Dog submissive urination is when your dog urinates because he or she is anxious, or timid, and wants to acknowledge you are dominant. Your dog may roll on his or her back and urinate, or stand and dribble when greeted, often when you return home from work. This behavior mimics that of a tiny puppy, which is to roll on his or her back and let the mother clean up the urine. Other dogs with submissive urination don't roll on their backs, but stand and dribble.

Causes of submissive urination in dogs

Anxiety causes your dog to urinate in front of you. In the dog world, the message your dog is sending is, "I'm not a threat. Please don't hurt me."

Key facts about submissive urination in dogs
  • Calming anxious dogs decreases submissive urination.
  • Punishment worsens submissive urination.
  • Neutering helps urine marking.
  • Cats rarely, if ever, demonstrate submissive urination.
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When submissive urination is most likely to occur

When you return home from work and your pet wants to signal that you are the boss, he or she rolls onto his or her back and urinates. When friends come to your home, your dog also wants to acknowledge their dominance, so he or she urinates. When you're walking your dog and a human bends over your dog to pet him or her, your dog wants to acknowledge the person's dominance, and urinates.

Difference between excitement urination and submissive urination

Subtle distinctions differentiate excitement urination and submissive urination. With excitement urination, activities, such as greeting, picking up the ball to play, gathering the harness and poop bags for a leash walk, can excite a pet and induce dribbling. Excitement urination doesn't involve dominance, so it occurs when we are not leaning over or physically dominating the pet; however, pets that urinate with excitement may also be experiencing anxiety.

Both excitement and submissive urination can occur in the same pet.

Urine marking

Urine marking is a dominance behavior: your dog urinates on a vertical surface, as high as possible. The assumption dogs make smelling a urine-marked area is that the higher the urine, the taller the dog, and the taller the dog, the more dominant. Marking behaviors define territory and signal, "This is mine!" to other dogs. Urine marking is done on walls, trees, and hydrants with small amounts of urine as frequently as your dog can physically manage. Submissive urination is done on a horizontal surface, when a dog is anxious, especially when approached by humans who are taller, or more dominant.

Pets most at risk for submissive urination

Anxious dogs who do not feel in control have problems with submissive urination and incontinence. Pets with owners who fuss over them when leaving or returning also have problems with submissive urination. Cats rarely, if ever, demonstrate submissive urination.

Max's Tip

Fussing over your dog and making a big deal when you come and go makes submissive urination or incontinence worse. Enter and exit your home calmly, so your pet is less anxious or overexcited.