Submissive Urination (Stress Incontinence) In Dogs

submissive dog and humanSome dogs when stressed, upset or excited will pass urine. This is known as submissive urination or stress incontinence. The release of urine is a behavioral condition and occurs in response to stress, upset or excitement. It is not a dog being bad, but an automatic response to stresses. A dog does not purposely release urine.

Telling the dog off, or punishing them, will only make it worse, since it increases the stress.

Stress incontinence has nothing to do with housetraining, since it is not a dog consciously deciding to pee.

What happens when a dog has submissive urination?

Dogs have a number of ways that they will show submission to a dominant dog or human. These can include looking away and rolling over. Urination is another way that dogs can show submission.

When exposed to a triggering stress some dogs will contract the abdominal wall muscles and relax urethral muscles. This causes the bladder to empty.

This contraction of some muscles and relaxation of others is an automatic response in some dogs. It is an involuntary reaction to stress and is not under conscious control of the dog.

Usually the submissive urination in response to a stress will be accompanied by one or more other signs of stress and discomfort. Signs can include tail down or between legs, ears flattened down, laying down and even sometimes rolling over.

Though submissive urination is the most commonly used phrase, stress incontinence may be better, since it sounds less like the urination in under the mental control of a dog. Additionally, this type of automatic urination response can occur in some dogs in reaction to overexcitement, not just fear.

Which stresses are the common causes of stress incontinence?

The most common causes are looming over the dog, scolding or yelling or any other way threatening the dog, loud noises, arguments between people, and guests not familiar to the dog entering the house.

If a dog is susceptible to overexcitement, then owners coming home, and very enthusiastic greetings or play, can lead to urination.

Which dogs get submissive urination?

Submissive urination is quite common in young puppies. It is more likely to occur in timid puppies. Dogs that have been abused when introduced to a new home may have submissive urination. Dogs that have not been socialized with other dogs may also on occasion submissive urination.

Most puppies will outgrow it, particularly if the situations that trigger the urination are minimized (see below). However, stress incontinence can persist into adulthood.

Stress incontinence can occur in any breed of dog.

Treatments for submissive urination

The best first step is to take your dog to the vet, to make sure that the urination is not due to a medical problem, such as a urinary tract infection.

Since the urination is an automatic response to a trigger, scolding or punishing the dog in any way is going to make the dog more stressed and the situation worse. Even if the dog has peed on your prize rug, remember yelling or any other response is only going to make it more likely that it will happen again.

Conversely do not praise or comfort a puppy or dog when they urinate either. This will indicate that urination, under the causing conditions, is a proper behavior for which they will be rewarded.

Just clean the urine up and move on.

For most puppies, if the behavioral triggers are identified and avoided as much as possible, they will usually outgrow the problem as they increase their confidence. Dogs that have been abused, as they become more comfortable in their new home, will usually no longer urinate when stressed.

Behavioral treatment

Working with an animal behaviorist can be helpful.

Find what triggers submissive urination in the dog

The first step with behavioral treatment is to determine the triggers for submissive urination. Sometimes it can be helpful to document the occasions when submissive urination takes place, to determine the situations when it occurs.

A very common trigger is standing and looming over the puppy. For very timid young puppies a trigger can be as simple as directly looking the puppy in the eye.

Minimize the occurrence of triggering situations

Once the triggering situations have been determined one aim is to try to minimize as much as possible these situations occurring, until the dog is more confident.

One thing that is often helpful is to try to approach the dog from a lower level and not tower over them. If the puppy gets stress when you look them directly in the eye try to make direct eye contact as infrequent as is practically possible.

If the puppy or dog does something “bad”, do not yell at them and loom over them. Tell them firmly “No”. Yelling usually doesn’t work any better than a firm No anyway – it just helps you with your anger and frustration.

If a dog also urinates when they get overexcited try to avoid these situations. For instance if your dog is crate trained, then when you get home try leaving them in the crate for a few minutes after you get home to see if this can dial down the level of excitement. Tone down the way that you greet your dog until they overcome the stress incontinence.

Make your dog more confident

Give your dog lots of praise, try to pet them more and if feasible spend more time on the floor with them. Petting should be gentle stroking and not patting, and under the chin or on the chest, never on the top of the head or the back. The goal is to make the puppy or dog more comfortable with you. Keeping the dog’s environment as calm as much as possible will reduce their level of overall stress and help build their self-confidence.

Once your dog has become more confident you can slowly try introducing some of the least stressful situations to see if they produce a urination response.

Try to organize the dog not having a full bladder for known upcoming stress

If you know in advance that there is going to be a situation where your dog is likely to urinate, try to do something that will encourage them to empty some of the urine from their bladder. For instance take them for a short walk round the block. The walking and scent of other dogs should make them pee. Then, assuming the stress is going to be over quickly, you might think about not give them any water until after the stress. Do not withhold water for more than a short period, dehydration is dangerous to dogs.

Drug treatment of submissive urination

Drug treatment is rare for submissive urination.

The most commonly used drug is phenylpropanolamine or PPA (Proin), which makes the urethral muscle less likely to relax. PPA has the side effect of increasing excitability and so can be counterproductive.

In conclusion

Submissive urination, or stress incontinence, is common in puppies and abused dogs. Most puppies will outgrow it, and previously abused dos as they get more comfortable in their new home will improve. The urination is an automatic response to stress and is not a deliberate act by a dog. Scolding and punishment will make it worse. For most dogs behavioral training, including confidence building will help the dog be less fearful and/or excitable and then they will stop urinating when stressed.