Submissive/Excited Urination, That Time I Trained Sigi to Pee Whenever She Saw Me, Unintentionally, of Course!
When Sigi was a puppy, I trained her to pee whenever she saw me. We were on our annual trip to Alaska, and it was a traumatic but exciting adventure for her. It is a 32 hour car ride, followed by a 12-14 hour boat trip, and throw in a stay with new weather, environment, people, and a 4th of July parade/fireworks celebration. Don’t get me wrong, it was great socialization and she LOVED it. However, she came away with some regrettable trained behaviors one of which was excited urination.
It is very common for GSD puppies to pee out of excitement or show submission. Sigi began to pee every time she saw me out of excitement and likely submissiveness (commonly they will lick your face excessively, lower themselves, and roll onto their stomach). It is important to tease out the cause- overstimulation leading to excited urination (e.g. when I came home from work) returning home or during particularly rambunctious play) or when they want to show they are of lesser pack status leading to 'submissive urination' (e.g. when an stronger, more authoritative dog is introduced).
Fortunately, both excited and submissive urination is normal, and many GSDs will simply outgrow it. For Sigi, I had to have all of our reintroductions outside, or I would not engage with her until she urinated. Literally I just ignored her when we were reintroduced. Eventually, she out grew it, although with certain people, especially authoritative people she knew as a puppy, Sigi will still regress even as an adult (yes that is you Jessica).
Training is pretty simple- don’t engage the puppy/dog until after they have peed and don’t get too excited with the puppy/dog unless you are outdoors when you first get together. Most important is to not make a big deal out of things if there is an accident. If she does a good job, mark the lack of peeing with a reward like a treat. Other than that, I would let them grow out of it. Sigi took a few days to a week and the behavior virtually disappeared as quickly as it came.
The one thing that we may have stopped the behavior from starting was to expose her to the new situations, I.e. the Alaska trip more gradually. Honestly, though, I think things worked out just fine. The important thing not is punish. This will make the behavior worse. This behavior is a anxiety/fear response that can be reinforced and exacerbated by punishing the dog, plus the positive alternative works better anyway.
I have heard people say thing that this is “almost never a sign that there is a significant 'dominance issue' in your household” and “the concept of dominance is vastly understood.” This is mostly true; however, with GSD it is a very clear behavior associated with the breed. Pointy-eared dogs (e.g. GSD, Dutch Shepherd, Malinois) have a clear hierarchy and associated behaviors that keeps everything in line. Many of these behaviors are associated are what we love about the breed (trainability, drive, loyalty). However, this one is one of the negatives.
Genetics can also play a role. As I mentioned, submissive/excited urination is almost baked into the breed. Again, I will have a more detailed discussion on this later on in a future blog post or podcast.
The one warning that I will give is if the behavior persists, it would be good to talk with your vet. It might be a sign of a medical issue rather than a behavioral one. They can prescribe medication to control the behavior.
Good luck in your training! Feel free to reach out if you have questions.