You'll already be familiar with the signs that your dog is happy or excited. The furious tail-wagging is a dead giveaway. But if you've been noticing a small puddle of pee when your dog’s tail motor starts spinning, you might be left scratching your head.

Even if you’re through the toilet training phase with your young pup, accidents can still happen. Sometimes, this is due to something called submissive urination.

What is Submissive Urination?

Submissive urination can occur whenever your dog gets excited. Despite having an official name, this is a relatively normal behavior to see in young dogs.

Submissive urination usually happens when a dog is excited, though it can also present when your pup is feeling intimidated, anxious or frightened. You might also notice this behavior when your dog is around other, larger dogs. The clue is in the name; this kind of urination is displayed when your dog expresses their acceptance of another’s dominance.

Unfortunately, the same applies to you. As the alpha of the household, you might have started noticing your dog peeing in your presence.

Bel Air, Maryland dog

Does Submissive Urination Affect All Dogs?

This kind of behavior is just as common in both male and female canines, but it's especially prevalent while they're still puppies. Typically, if your dog is 12 weeks old or younger, they’re more likely to display this behavior. But given time, most pets will outgrow this habit.

Other factors that can potentially contribute to submissive urination include:

  • Poor housetraining: Depending on where you acquired your pet, they may not have been housetrained properly. If you adopted a dog older than 3 months, they may have never been taught where and when they're allowed to pee.
  • Past trauma: Shelter dogs may show submissive urination more frequently, depending on their background. If they’ve been punished harshly in a former home, they may urinate submissively in an attempt to show your dominance and avoid a punishment from you.
  • Separation anxiety: Submissive urination can be just one of the signs of separation anxiety in your pup. When they know you're about to leave the house, they might urinate out of fear of losing you. Of course, they may do the same upon your return, out of excitement!

How Do I Know if it’s Submissive Urination?

To determine whether your dog is displaying signs of submissive urination, or whether they're just having regular old accidents, consider the following behaviors:

  • Is your dog urinating when a stranger approaches to say hello?
  • Does your dog urinate when they’re told off?
  • Does the accident occur when they’re startled by a loud noise?
  • Do they urinate when showing their belly or crouching?

If the answer to any of the above questions is a “Yes,” then it’s likely that your dog’s little accidents are indeed submissive urination.

How to Stop Submissive Urination

As mentioned, it's likely that your dog will simply outgrow the habit as they age. That said, puppies are the most willing to learn of any dogs, so early training can stamp out submissive urination more quickly.

The first step to stopping submissive urination is to spot the warning signs. Before an episode, you might expect to see your dog:

  • Lifting their front paws
  • Flattening back their ears
  • Excessively licking
  • Tucking in their tail

As soon as you see these behaviors emerging, it’s time to act. Lead your dog outdoors, indicating that they should be urinating outside. Otherwise, you can follow these three bits of advice in your day-to-day life:

  • When you return home, distract your pup with a treat so that they can redirect their nervous excitement elsewhere.
  • Greet your dog in a calm manner, rather than becoming equally as excited. Avoid any excitable energy that could be portrayed by your dog as acts of dominance.
  • Train your dog to sit still when meeting new people by using treats.

Submissive Urination: What NOT to Do

Remember, submissive urination is your dog interpreting you as a dominant member of the household. Some people will react harshly when their dog urinates indoors, which only perpetuates this image of you as a dominant pack member.

  • Don’t use negative body language: When your dog urinates in this way, don’t scowl or frown at them, and don’t shove them away or anything physical. This can only serve to worsen their urinating out of fear or anxiety.
  • Don’t verbally scold your dog: Again, shouting at your dog or speaking to them in a generally negative tone can lead to the cycle continuing. The aim is to break their image of you as a potential punisher that they should fear.
  • Don’t withdraw affection or attention: Shunning your dog out of frustration is confusing for them. They won't learn from their behavior or understand what they've done. Instead, you should redirect attention using the tips we've outlined above.
My whippet, Fiddich, when she was a 10 week old puppy

Overcoming Submissive Urination

Remember, with any luck, your puppy will outgrow this habit. If they don’t, or if you’ve an older dog that you suspect has had poor experiences in the past, you may want to consider using a professional trainer.