Teaching a puppy not to urinate indoors isn't always about house-training. Dogs use a wide range of communication strategies to signal deference, including submissive urination.
Squatting and peeing is normal behavior used by puppies—and, sometimes, adult dogs—to “cry uncle” and proclaim the owner or another dog to be the boss. Because puppies are naturally at the bottom of the doggy hierarchy, they use these signals to diffuse situations in which they feel threatened.
Puppies usually outgrow the behavior, but some very submissive dogs continue as adults. In puppies, the scent of the urine also tells the other dog about the baby’s sexual status and maturity level, which also serves to tell other dogs that the puppy is no threat. However, adolescent boy puppy urine has a much higher content of testosterone, which signals mature dogs they should "teach him" before he gets too big for his furry britches.
In this ultimate display of submission, puppies typically throw themselves at the owner’s feet. They wiggle with lots of loose, low-held tail wags and avert their eyes—the opposite of a steady hard eye stare, which is a challenge in dog language. In showing his submission, the puppy places his body position as low as possible. Finally, the pup squats close the floor and wets, though sometimes he turns onto his back before wetting. Submissive wetting behavior most commonly happens during greetings when you return home after an absence.
What Not to Do
Understandably, owners of new puppies typically object to the dog wetting on the floor. Even youngsters that have been properly potty-trained can display submissive urination during greetings or when they feel stressed around older dogs or strangers. Some of the same behaviors that look like a guilty puppy may include submissive wetting designed to appease your upset feelings.
Remember, however, that because the behavior is instinctive and used to diffuse the angry actions of scary other dogs (or human), your anger can actually make it worse. Think of it from your puppy’s viewpoint: When he pees, you yell. The dog thinks, “Oh no, now he’s really upset, so I must not be submissive enough"—so he pees some more.
Any actions on your part that communicate you being in charge, including yelling, shaming, touching, or even making eye contact, shows your puppy that he’s not yet submissive enough. In dog body language, the top dog put a paw across the puppy’s shoulders or leans his chin across the baby dog’s neck to show they’re in charge. When you pat your puppy on the head, that’s sending a similar message.
How to Stop Puppy Submissive Wetting
To stop puppy submissive urination, work to teach him better control and more confidence, so he doesn’t feel the urge to wet. Much of this confidence and control come with maturity, but you can help.
- Ignore the behavior. It's hard to do but refrain from making a big deal out of this. Stay silent and simply mop up the mess as you avoid eye contact.
- If your puppy wets for another dog, this is an opportunity for the baby to learn from the older pet. Allow the adult canine to make his point—nosing the pup for example—before calling him away. Again, clean up the mess without saying a word.
- If a puppy wets during homecomings, ignore the little guy—at least at first. Walk through the door and ignore the puppy for 10 minutes to give him time to calm down. Turn your back and walk away without speaking to him. Paying attention to any of the other dogs nearby also could prompt the puppy to wet, so delay your greetings.
- Instead of head pats, pet the dog in a less-intimidating manner. Scratch his chest or beneath his chin, but only after he’s calmed down. Use a soft, gentle voice.
- Avoid looming over top of a puppy. Instead, give your puppy space and some busy work for his brain to think so he’s distracted from feeling submissive.
- Practice mess-free commends. Back away from the puppy while you ask him to "come" and then "sit." As soon as he does, back away and repeat the commands. Keep backing up, ignore the “wet” sits, and gently praise and offer food rewards for dry sits so your pup learns that not wetting prompts the payday.
Be patient and understanding. In time, almost all puppies outgrow this behavior. And then you can greet each other with the happy expressions you've saved up along the way.