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Gushy Greetings – Submissive Urination

Shake a PawHi John,

I have read your Sun Media column for awhile now. I have a 2 1/2 year old black Labrador Retriever who is neutered. About 6 months ago he started having problems of holding his bladder when he was excited. I have tried limiting his water and taking him outside to pee before expected company was coming over, but he still manages to retain just enough urine to give people a little pee soaker. And if company shows up unexpectedly, I often get a huge mess. I have had him tested for diabetes and other medical problems and his results come back normal. He has always been a big drinker, and will drink his water dish empty several times a day. I was wondering if you could suggest some strategies that I could use to make his greeting experiences more positive. He is especially nervous around males, but will occasionally pee around females, including me. I don’t discipline him for this problem, because it seems to make it worse (he just pees more).

Thanks for your time and consideration!


Dear Becky,

A lot of young dogs pee in excitement and/or as a token of submission to the other party in a greeting scenario. While most of our two legged guests would rather forgo the honour, from a dog’s perspective you can’t get much more positive then peeing on someone’s shoes as part of the greeting ritual. Nothing like a little squirt to let the other guy know, “If there’s anything I can do to make your stay more enjoyable, let me know. Here’s my card.” There’s usually some sort of fawning posturing that accompanies the gesture as well. Even if you were to find that limiting his water intake (don’t) were to turn the tap off, you’d only be solving your problem. The piddling is simply the exclamation mark in an overall statement of being wound up past the point of self control. You need to deal with that too.

Submissive urination and/or excitement peeing that pups don’t grow out of on their own pop up once in a while. The owners of a pair of West Highland Terriers told me that when I arrived the dogs would shower me with affection and more then a little liquid gold. They were adamant that it was getting to the point where it was becoming a deal breaker in their relationship with the dogs. I wondered, “I know there’s two of them but they’re a small breed. How bad can it be?” When they suggested I might want to arrive wearing rubber boots and rain pants I began to wonder which end of the leash the problem was attached to. It ended up being a bit of both and yes I did get pretty wet.

This type of urination is more likely to occur and last longer in some breeds then others and ironically considering the first half of their name Golden Retrievers seem to have the most available water pressure. Labrador Retrievers aren’t far behind but in your case it is odd that a two year old dog would start doing this. You did the right thing by having him checked out physically and as all is clear in that department I would be looking at a life changing, confidence altering event starting around the same time that the peeing started.

Your dog may have always been the sort that heard the doorbell and raced to the door shouting, “Company! Company! Company!” and one day about 6 months ago he encountered someone from whom he got the opposite response of what he’d become accustomed to expecting. It needn’t have been anything bizarre nor severe enough to keep him away from guests entirely but for his temperament enough to be now causing a short circuit when he greets people.

Almost every submissive/excitement urination situation can be resolved with a little peripheral training that involves developing the dog’s attention on it’s owner and its confidence. The way to accomplish this will vary from trainer to trainer. I like to teach a “Go to your mat.” exercise. I don’t care whether the dog stands, sits or lays down on the mat. Just so they learn to understand that leaving it is forbidden until told to do so. The distance needn’t be more then about 10 feet. Don’t make it too tough in the beginning. Just you and the dog sitting still. Later get up move about. Later, knocking on your own door, ringing the door bell. Fake a greeting. Eventually the dog is supposed to get the idea that someone at the door might as well mean, “Go to your mat.” The distance between the dog and the person will help a lot. It might take several weeks to put it all together. You can always ask the guest to ignore the dog. Don’t touch, don’t make eye contact etc. but dog lovers are a lot like dogs that want something. They can hear you, but they don’t listen to you. Better to invest your time getting the dog to hear and listen to you. When guest do arrive the dog doesn’t have to stay on the mat forever. Release when the dog noticeably relaxes on the mat after the guest arrived.

It takes some work yet you’ll find a good trainer with a balanced approach will be worth their weight in golden, I mean gold. In addition to having drier, happier guests the dog will be happier if for no other reason then the confidence that comes from accomplishment.

– John

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