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Canine Behavior/Submissive/Excitement Urination



I have an almost 3 year old female Australian Shepherd named Kaiya. She is a very mild tempered dog that LOVES attention from people. I just got her as a rescue almost two months ago and I am trying to acclimate her to her new home as best as possible. I received very little information about her previous owner only that she could not longer care for Kaiya and needed to find her a new home. Her medical records were very sparse. I only knew that she was spayed, but I got her vaccinations all done again because those were not indicated in the most up-to-date records she had.

As I said, she loves people. She loves attention and she loves being petted. She also likes to jump on people when she gets too excited which is something we are working on. My issue is that sometimes Kaiya has issues with submissive or overexcited urination. For example, when I approach her and begin to come down to her level, her first move is to go even lower to the point of laying down with her chin to the floor. She does not like to sit up and stay there at my eye level when I squat in front of her. This position will regularly result in a puddle underneath her when she gets up. It is strange too because I will encourage her to stay sitting when I squat down in front of her so I am on her level, but she continues to try to lay down to the point of giving me dead weight when I try to hold her up. Sometimes she will lay down and roll to the side exposing her belly. She loves belly rubs, but she might also be doing this as a sign of submission or just to get those rubs because once you stop she gets up and will muzzle your hand until you touch her, pet her, or rub her belly again. She LOVES attention. I haven't really witnessed her peeing after getting into trouble or anything. In fact, usually when I call her for doing something she is not supposed to do, her first move is to run to me and try to be petted or try to lay down next to me seemingly for comfort.

Sometimes she will urinate during other occassions too such as when she is over excited such as when people come to visit or when she is at the vet and is overstimulated by all the people and animals. She is very happy in these situations and does not appear scared. She is always wagging her tail, trying to jump up to people, looking for attention, etc so I don't believe she is nervous just over excited or stimulated.

One of the biggest reasons I am hoping to work with her on this behaviour is because our vet has diagnosised Kaiya with spay incontinence and we do have her on a treatment medication to try to find a regiment to impove her condition. The problem is that she continues to have these types of accidents with her treatment and I believe this is a separate behavioral issue. So I am trying to modify her behavior with the submissive/over excited urination so that when she does have accidents I don't have to question if that is the medication not working or because she was being submissive or excited.

Just this morning, I went to put her topical flea medication on and she bent down like she does when I come down to her level with her chin on the floor and when I was done there was a significant amount of urine on the floor. Based on her position it was very clear that it was a submissive urination so I try not to get discouraged that her treatment is not working, but until I work with her and know that she no longer exhibiting this behavior can I determine if her incontinence treatment is working. I would appreciate any advice that you can give on how I might approach this level of behavioral training. Thanks!

Your veterinarian has already diagnosed the major cause of loss of bladder control in this bitch.  The rest of it is conditioned response to dominant Human posture and, most likely, in her former "home" (hard to call it that), punishment for inappropriate urination.

Because a dog's tail is wagging and the dog is "jumping up" does not necessarily indicate a happy dog.  The domestic dog uses its tail often as a communication without the understanding that people can't generally "read dog" body language.  Jumping up can be a juvenile behavior associated with begging for affiliation, not just joy.  When your dog rolls over, she is not asking for a belly rub: she is giving total submission.  Belly rubs are, from now on, NEVER to be given.  I have seen dogs go from this submissive posture to active biting because Humans do not understand the posture and continue with their own behavior that communicates dominance and threat to the dog.  I'm not saying this will happen to your dog, it most likely won't.  What I am saying is that you need to totally change the manner in which you approach this dog.

Approaching a dog in a straight line, using the dog's name, making eye contact, is a direct confrontational behavior in the dog's culture.  A fearful dog, or one that has learned (this is called learned helplessness) that its show of submission is routinely ignored, will get rapidly worse.  How to approach your dog:

Do not use her name
Do not make eye contact
Approach on a curve, EVERY TIME
Stop during your approach, turn aside, go forward
As you go forward ON A CURVE, lick your lips
When you have reached the dog, without eye contact, YAWN.  Sit on the floor
Wait for the dog to make the next move
If the dog leaves, stop, try again in five minutes: in this case she may choose to leave, this will correct itself
The moment she responds to you sitting on the floor by coming to you freely, pop a delicious treat (string cheese chunk) into her mouth.  Do not apply medication; do not pop pills into her mouth; have a quiet "party" (no loud voices, no loud praise, simply sing a little song about a good girl) then, get up slowly, turning your body away from her, and walk away.

Every single time this dog approaches you, either on a curve or a straight line, independently (for attention or any other reason), sing the little song and pop the treat into her mouth (string cheese lasts an entire day in a Zip Loc in your pocket).

You must do this in order to counter condition this dog.  It will take time.  You have had her a mere two months and you are seeing the behaviors she has acquired from idiots who previously "owned" her.  Tsk.  People make me sick sometimes, but there are so many good people out there on the streets helping dogs that they make up for the sickening ones.

In a situation where the dog is forced (not inhumanely, just by circumstance) to "solicit" interaction with humans by jumping up on them: tell the person to raise their hands over their heads and turn their back to the dog for one second.  NO ONE should STAND OVER this dog, NO ONE should PET HER HEAD, you must supervise all contact by observing your dog's body language: ears wide apart: anxiety; ears flat back: fear.  Tail Up and High tip wagging: warning; tail low and wagging at tip: fear.  Be sure she is totally relaxed and then give the other person a treat to offer her ONLY if her body language IS RELAXED.

A small primer on body language:

This is a good dog with a very poor veterinary spay.  She may have incontinence issues forever even though medication does assist in this problem.  The behavioral aspect must be managed by careful counter conditioning over time.  Within six months, any behaviorally related urination should have self extinguished.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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