It’s a gross scene, but an all too common one in many homes:
You’ve just gotten home from a long day at work. You walk in the door and greet your happy, wagging dog only to get a wet mess in return. The dam has burst, there’s no stopping the flow, and your fun hello has turned into a pee nightmare! Before you know it your dog is stepping in the mess, jumping around with his peepee paws, and all you can do is try your best to manage this unsanitary scene before it spreads further. The only thing that is worse is when it happens to your house guests. Yikes – This is not a fun way to start a party.
Excitable Urination, as it is often called, results from an over-sensitivity to things that should be normal activities, but get built up as big events in the dog’s mind. Common with younger dogs with weak bladders who still find the world around them very stimulating, or dogs who have had very limited exposure socially, these “accidents” often happen during greetings, rough play, or any activity the dog finds stimulating. So if you are getting turbo-dog who wags, jumps, and slides around in his own pee in your honor at the door, chances are this is the challenge you are faced with.
Jack was so excited to see us as a puppy, it took a lot of self control to step away from a face like that and wait for him to calm. It paid off though, and now he can get through a hello pretty easily – so long as you don’t mind some puppy kisses.
Submissive urination is a similar problem that may be contributing to, or the sole cause of, these sudden messes. It may also be a result of exciting events like greetings, but may also happen when doing something as simple as being picked up or pet. This behavior is often coupled with cowering or noticeable nervousness and fear, although it can also be a purely respectful behavior since urinating is a sign of the ultimate submissive. This can often be observed when one dog cowers under the chin or belly of another, appearing calm but visibly nervous or tense. Extremely submissive and less confident personality types often struggle with this, as well as dogs who have been neglected or trained using pain and fear techniques that break their trust with humans.
So how do you treat it? Unlike marking and full blown potty accidents, these types of “accidents” are more psychologically rooted. They should never being addressed using correction or any type of punishment. They must be treated holistically, addressing the root causes of behavior through improving the dog’s confidence, social skills, and self control. In other words, training your dog out of this habit may take some time and dedication on your part. The good news is: It isn’t hard to do.
The exercises below illustrate a few of the most holistic approaches to treating these problems. They are intended to build confidence, increase calm behavior, socialize, and remove any of the things people often do to unknowingly contribute to the problem. Please note that having your dog checked out by a vet first is always recommended, as there can be medical issues that cause weak bladder control that should be ruled out first.
1. Calm greetings result in calm behavior. Teach your dog to greet you calmly by waiting until they have relaxed before rewarding them with a hello, eye contact, or any physical touch. It may seem cruel in human terms to ignore your excited dog after a long day of being away, but for dogs your actions translate to one thing: Calm behavior gets attention; excited behavior is ignored. Dogs will always do what works for them 100% of the time, so if excited doesn’t work, then excited will eventually go away. Keep a look out for the calm behavior you want (ie: your dog comes and sits next to you calmly) and only reward that behavior with attention.
Start out by setting a time limit: No one touches, looks at, or talks to the dog in the first 5-10 minutes that you are home. Meanwhile everyone has ample time to set their things down, take their shoes off, and generally settle into being home too. Once the dog has had ample time to relax and is demonstrating calm behavior, then everyone can say their hellos in a calm fashion one person at a time. This is best done seated in a calm living space of the house where the dog is already accustomed to relaxing with the family. IF the dog becomes excited at any time during greetings and begins to jump, cower, or become overly energetic (the signs that lead up to urination), simply ignore the dog, get up and walk away.
2. Redirect Energy and Avoid Messes. Assign one person to calmly and silently take the dog out immediately for a potty break when you get home. If they can’t make it to the back door without releasing, keep a leash by your front door and get them outside before you go in. Remember that this is within the time that everyone should be ignoring the dog, so interaction during this time should be limited to leashing and waiting (no petting, talking, or eye contact) – All attempts to get attention by the dog should be ignored and no commands should be given by the person. Once they have pottied and have calmed down a bit outside, let them in the house off leash and continue the ignoring exercise until they calm. If it is difficult to leash your dog, use a slip lead that easily slips over their head and pulls snug without fussing with a collar and clip leash.
3. Leave the Home Calmly. Like your greetings, your exits also need to be calm and uneventful. Avoid emotional departures where you hug and talk sweetly to your dog, as these are often misunderstood by dogs. Your dog doesn’t know English, so instead of hearing “Bye-bye, sweetheart! I’m sorry I have to leave,” while you adoringly pet and hug them, your dogs sees you becoming distraught and hears you making worrisome sounds. Seeing you visibly upset and sad does nothing for your dog but stress them out while they wait for you all day. This makes your arrival home even more important to them, adding to any excitement they already feel.
It’s all about body language and tone for your dog, so act like leaving is no big deal with a brief good bye. If you feel bad, reward them instead by giving them a little treat just before you head out the door. This will help take their mind off of you potentially abandoning them, and may even add a little positive association to your departure.
4. Practice. The more often you practice polite calm greetings (or any exciting scenario your dog struggles with), the more they will desensitize to the event. So take note of what you usually do when you leave and arrive home, set up the exercise, and repeat it a few times a day. Try this for a month and see how far your dog comes in a few short weeks.
5. Play & Exercise. Walks, jogs, agility challenges and play all help a dog keep their nerves at bay and will increase confidence on a daily basis. Teach your dog a few games to play in the house in case of bad weather like Find the Toy. Be sure to challenge your dog on daily outings using your obedience training.
Keep it fun and use safe obstacles that your dog is not afraid of to work on balancing, crawling under or going over things. Park benches, playground equipment, basic agility equipment or just sitting and staying at curbs can be easy little ways to make the walk more interesting and fulfilling for your dog. Layer on the praise when they do well – dogs love a job well done.
6. Exercise the Jaws. Chewing is also an exercise that older and younger dogs need consistently. This activity has a noticeably calming effect on dogs, so don’t assume a dog is done chewing just because they aren’t destructive. Behaviors resulting from boredom can manifest in many different ways including stress, which easily contributes to issues with submissive and excited urination. Chewing helps relieve stress. Our favorite chews are raw bones and sweet potato chews (Sams Yams is a great substitute for rawhide). We find our dog’s stay calm and content if they get bones about twice a week, but this varies depending on the dog. Choose whatever safe items your dog responds to for chewing*, adjust the frequency as needed, and monitor them for safety.
7. Socialize, Socialize, Socialize. Hands down the most fun, important and commonly overlooked exercise your dog can benefit from is meeting and playing with other dogs and people in new places. Dogs are social animals, so being cooped up in a house all the time is not natural. For healthy dogs that can handle the excitement, dog parks are a great option for burning steam and meeting some new faces (or should we say butts?). Taking a trip once a week for 20 minutes can make all the difference and boost confidence rapidly. For really energetic types, try enrolling your dog in a once or twice a week play group or dog daycare session. If your dog is timid, fearful, or anti-social already, take it slow and keep it fun, making sure not to overwhelm them. Set up a play time with a neighbor’s dog who you know is nice and social that can teach them a few things, or just practice meeting new people on walks one at a time.
8. Kennel. Last but certainly not least: Use Your Kennel.
As den animals, dogs often find kennels soothing and reassuring (even though they may not act like it at first). When introduced properly, this makes the kennel a perfect tool for reducing anxiety. This will not work if your dog has a negative association with the kennel, so training your dog to accept the kennel first is a key step. While we tend to feel guilty for limiting their freedom while we’re gone, a dog with too much freedom may become confused, shifty, and nervous. This freedom can actually increase the level of anxiety and excitement we witness when arriving home, whereas a dog who has been napping safely all cozy in their kennel for a few hours will often greet us well-rested and calm. While many dogs grow out of their kennels as they become more confident in their home, it is common for even the most well-socialized and confident dogs to need their kennel throughout life. Don’t have a kennel? Set up a cozy space in a laundry room or under a desk or large table for your dog to snuggle up in while you’re gone to see if that helps. Practice teaching them to go to their bed on cue. The odds are good that they will accept this space and use it to feel safer while you’re away.
What not to do:
You are building confidence and teaching your dog, so keep this in mind before you react.
Never punish your dog for excited or submissive urination. Even the slightest sounds of disappointment can make this problem ten times worse. Everyone’s silence, understanding, and patience on this matter is key to resolving the problem faster.
Do not talk to, look at, or touch your dog when they are excited. Every bit of attention they receive while in this mind-frame only increases their excitement and rewards their behavior. Eye contact counts because it lets your dog know they have your attention.
Do not give your dog treats right after arriving home. When leaving this is ok since you are attaching a positive association with your exit. But when arriving this will only increase your dog’s excitement and reward excited behavior.