Rescue Dogs and Submissive Urination

We all know that getting a puppy means that we’ll have to clean up some messes and work on housebreaking. Small dogs can lead to some special challenges, especially if they are fast on their feet! Some pet owners have been through it before with a new young puppy and they are aware of the steps for potty-training success.


When adopting a rescue dog, it is best for the owner to look at the situation from a whole different perspective. If a history is known about the dog that can help, but sometimes that isn’t available. Rescue dogs often have been through more extreme stress than a puppy or a regular adopted healthy stray. Some rescue dogs arrived in a rescue situation because they had an owner who did not understand potty-training techniques and caused more issues. Teaching a dog to urinate and defecate in a designated area is a challenge in all cases, but urination isn’t just an elimination function in dogs. In addition, smaller dogs can be very intimidated by humans, so if you have a small dog who is fearful, this adds more issues.

To begin with, it is important to understand that urinating serves multiple functions for dogs. In the wild, feral canines such as wolves and coyotes use urine as a mean to mark territory and to communicate with each other. Every domestic dog still has a brain that is wired for these things. Urination can serve a purpose for both males and females. Males will tend to use urination to assert themselves and stake their claims. Both female and more submissive males will use urination to communicate.

Photo of Chiweenie sitting in the grass


Rescue dogs have often been triggered by stress and may have Post Traumatic Stress which will tend to push them to rely on their natural instincts. This does not mean that normal potty training techniques are bad, and potty-training should not be a type of punishment or intimidation. If a dog owner has a small dog who is already nervous and a bit fearful of a much larger person, the dog owner can even accidentally trigger stress in the dog.

There are a number of situations where both wild and domestic dogs will use urination as communication with each other. A wild dog may lower its body to the ground, roll over and release a small amount of urine. The sight and scent of the urine along with the body posture tells the pack leader that the dog has yielded authority. This is called submissive urination.

If you have adopted a rescue dog who isn’t just eliminating waste in the house but releases small amounts of urine on a regular basis, it is possible that you are dealing with a submissive urination issue. Also, the release of small amounts of urine when the dog is not in a submissive posture can simply mean that the dog lacks bladder control. If the dog is very young, it may need to be a little older to develop control and the dog should be checked by a veterinarian for any health issues. A urinary tract infection can cause bladder leakage and can be fixed with basic medication.


If you have ruled out issues of age and health, take note of the dog’s behavior during the release of urine. Watch for these signs:

• The dog urinates outside or in the designated location normally at times

• The dog appears submissive, anxious or fearful when the urine is released

• The dog lays down, cowers, or rolls on its back to urinate even though it doesn’t show actual fear

• You find small amounts of urine in the home in odd places as though the dog is deliberately avoiding someone or is hiding when it urinates

• If there are other dogs or animals in the home, note whether or not your rescue dog only urinates around other dogs or animals as this may be the dog’s way of telling them that he or she is not a threat

You may be able to confirm that the dog is urinating submissively to communicate with you, other family members, children, or other pets. The first thing to remember is that you must not show anger or frustration with the dog when this happens. If the dog perceives that you are still upset, he or she may feel that you still didn’t get the message of submission, and the dog may urinate even more or show other signs of anxiety.



Some young rescue will mature slower because of their early problems. The submissive urination may stop when they get a bit older and feel more secure about their place in the home. If it doesn’t, there are steps you can take to help the dog correct the problem. These steps are somewhat different from just housebreaking, but you can incorporate them into your normal housebreaking routine:

• Shower your rescue dog with affection. If it is a small dog and likes to be held and cuddled, don’t be afraid to do this, especially at first. The dog needs to feel confident and safe. The dog needs to know that he or she is accepted fully.

• If your dog does urinate inside, show as little reaction as possible. Don’t praise or punish. Take the dog outside in a calm manner just in case the dog does need to urinate normally. Clean the mess up as quickly as you can, preferably using an enzyme cleaner to remove the smell.

• Every time the dog urinates outside, shower the dog with more praise. Pats and play are excellent. An occasional food treat is fine, especially for food motivated dogs, but don’t offer a food treat every time or they will come to expect it.

• The more anxious the dog, the calmer the environment needs to be, especially indoors. Excitement can also sometimes trigger the release or urine, so for a dog with major urination issues, keep everything low key and quiet inside the house. If the dog does urinate, stick to the plan and stay cool while you carry or lead the dog outside. For excitable dogs, have more of your play time outside. Use higher pitched happy tones in your voice while you are outside. This will make the dog feel that you are happy with him or her and if urination does occur, the dog will still feel praised and confident.

• Keep body language subdued as well. Dogs read body language and hear voice tone just as much as they notice anger.

• If you find urine in the home, clean it up with a strong cleaner made for dog urine. You want to remove the smell entirely. Don’t ever take the dog to the location and show the dog the spot or act upset about it. If the dog is hiding from you to urinate, it is probably fearful. The more it sees you excited and happy about outdoor urination and the less reaction it gets from indoor elimination, the more it will do the thing that makes you respond positively.


In most cases you will find success if you follow these steps and stick with it. Consistency is the primary key. If you realize that you are feeling especially stressed or frustrated while you are with your small rescue dog, take a break. Move into another room and make sure your own needs are met and that you are calm.

Once you feel composed, return to your dog. While you go through the process of connecting the urination issues you will need to remain patient and repeat the steps as often as needed. In time your little dog will gain confidence and become a happy dog who feels safe in your home.


2 thoughts on “Rescue Dogs and Submissive Urination

  1. Okay I get the fact that rescues have issues but I never heard about this type of potential potty disaster. Sorry but does Oscar suffer from this?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Frankly i didn’t have a clue about submissive urination until I did a little research after reading Oscar’s medical history in his adoption file where the word appeared. If you read the post A Shaky One Indeed about our first contact, you will see the obvious clues he has this problem. Yea, it’s a tough go potty training him, he hides from me and urinates. 😦


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About marcelino guerrero

An entrepreneur, grandfather, disabled veteran, Chiweenie parent and rabid Philadelphia Phillies Phan. Retired (involuntarily); I enjoy impeding the progress of important and obnoxious people while exploring new ways to irritate my primary physician.