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Breaking The Cycle
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DEAR DIDI: We have a six-month-old male pit that we rescued from the shelter about three months ago. He is such a wonderful and sweet dog that we love to death. We have one issue though. When my husband comes home from work at night our dog greets him at the door enthusiastically and then rolls over on his back and pees! He doesn’t do this with me but also does it with our neighbor when he visits. We can’t figure out where the problem is. My husband gets very angry and thinks the dog is growing up to be a weeny. Can you shed some light and offer suggestions? -Maria in Stockton

DEAR MARIA: Although this is surely a very frustrating behavior, it is not altogether uncommon. Behaviorists refer to this as Submissive Urination. Signs of submissive behavior to watch for are flattening of the ears, avoiding eye contact, lowering of the head and neck, sitting or cowering, tucking the tail between the hind legs, and rolling onto the back to expose the belly. The causes of this behavior could be an early traumatic experience, an overly sheltered puppyhood, or a history of punishment. A number of triggers such as a person approaching, punishment, scolding, or a deep and loud voice can cause dogs of any age to urinate submissively. Basically, your puppy feels he is being confronted by someone he perceives to be threatening. Perhaps your husband is a big guy, or has a deep voice, or a commanding presence. A young dog is genetically predisposed to submit to older dominant males in the pack as a survival technique.

Typically, I would suggest not physically allowing the dog to run freely through the house around the time that your husband will be coming home. This way he isn’t put in the position to react submissively. The puppy could be outside, in his crate or on a leash at this time. He will naturally be excited to greet a returning member of the family but your husband should refrain from paying attention to the puppy until he has calmed down. This means no touching, no talking to him, and no eye contact. Just ignore the little guy until he gets used to the fact that dad is home. This could take up to an hour in the beginning.

When the puppy has calmed down significantly, have your husband sit down on the sofa or his favorite chair. The puppy could approach him rather than your husband bending over the dog. Many puppies get very scared when a large person leans over them which is what naturally occurs at the front door when we first walk in. Try initiating petting by rubbing under the chin at first instead of reaching for the top of the head. It can also help a lot to not stare at the dog while you pet him as this is perceived, in dog body language, as a confrontation. Perhaps your husband could watch TV and just dangle his arm down at the side of the chair. The puppy will run over and rub himself on his hand, initiating contact without all of the scary parts.

The puppy is only six months old and he was at the dog pound so it is very possible that he was treated poorly before you got him. Trauma as a baby can leave symptoms similar to PTSD. Help him build his confidence levels by not yelling at him when he has an accident. Ignore the behavior completely or it will only reinforce his fears. Enroll him in quality puppy classes that focus on socializing and confidence building. Many puppies grow out of this behavior if you are patient and supportive!


Dierdra McElroy is a graduate of Texas A&M University, owner of California Canine, and is an Animal Behaviorist specializing in canines. If you have questions or concerns about the pets in your house, you can get them answered through a future column of Dear Didi. Just email your questions to