DEAR OLD TRAINER: Sadie, a 1-year-old mixed breed – the vet says golden and Aussie probably – showed up at our door last fall. She is so sweet we adopted her and we love her. The problem is she urinates when any human approaches her. If I leave for any reason she does it when I return. What causes this problem and how do we deal with it?
Erin, Fort Collins, Colo.
A: Submissive urination is a way of telling the pack, “I mean no harm so please don’t hurt me.” It usually occurs only when a dog is in the puppy stage, but Sadie has had a hard life and fears being hurt again. Your job is to show her things have changed and she has nothing to fear.
First, have the vet examine her to make sure she does not have a medical problem. If she is nervous all the time, ask the vet about medication you might use to calm her down during training.
Start training with the mindset of “Sadie, I know you are trying, and I love you, so together we will solve this problem.” Have infinite patience. Don’t scold her if she forgets. That only makes her more nervous.
Ignore her and avoid eye contact when you first come home to give her time to calm down. Tell any visitors to do the same thing. If you can leave her outside while you are gone, even better. That allows you to walk from one side of the lawn to the other a few times without saying a word. After a few minutes when she is calm, acknowledge her and pet her.
When you do pet her, do it on the chest and belly rather than the head and ears. Stoop down and do it instead of bending over. Body language is everything to a dog, and bending your knees is less threatening than bending over.
Keep small treats in your car. When you arrive home, toss her a treat or a favorite toy, saying nothing except “here, Sadie.” Once she learns you are going to toss her something she likes every time you return, her mind will focus on that rather than being nervous and scared.
Training is vital because she is interacting with the person she loves; she gains confidence as she learns; and when she sees it makes you happy, it makes her happy.
Train her every day, even after she learns the routine, and pet her and brag on her every time she does a command right.
Once she learns the routine, you can say “sit” when you arrive home, and while she is doing that she doesn’t have time to act submissive because she’s so busy showing you she knows the commands.
You don’t say if you exercise much, but running and walking with Sadie is an excellent way to build her confidence and relieve nervous tension.
All the above exercises have the same goal: to reassure her you love her and she no longer has anything to fear from life. The more she does the right thing, the more her confidence grows.
When she regains her confidence – it doesn’t take long for most dogs – the problem will end.
A trainer for more than 30 years, Jack Haskins has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,500 dogs. Send questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.