Dog at door

Q. My puppy piddles on the floor when she greets visitors at our front door. She doesn’t have accidents in the house at any other time and she’s friendly and enjoys people. What’s going on, and what can I do about it?

A. This sounds like either excitement-based urination or submissive urination, both of which commonly happen during greetings. Excitement urination happens when a dog is overly excited in the situation and has little control of her bladder — it’s common in puppies. Submissive urination is different; the dog hunkers down low to the ground and leaves little spots of piddle when she greets to show that she’s not a threat.

Puppies often outgrow piddling when greeting, but some dogs continue this behavior into adulthood, especially if they are insecure or fearful. Fortunately, if you have a puppy who does this type of greeting or an adult dog with a leaky greeting style, there are some things you can do about it.

Before You Start Training

The first step is to visit your veterinarian to rule out any underlying medical concerns that could be causing this behavior. If you have an overly fearful dog, your vet can address ways to help her with her fear, including a referral to a veterinary behaviorist or certified professional dog trainer.

Next, it’s important to be consistent in how you communicate with your dog. I recommend reward-based interactions that are structured and predictable; always use the same cue to ask for a behavior and always reward her in the same way when she completes it. Never use punishment with your puppy; it will only make the situation worse.

Change the Way You Greet Your Pup

Keep greetings calm and non-threatening. Your puppy may be so excited and overwhelmed by the arrival of new people that she becomes overstimulated and leaks on the ground. Or she may be feeling insecure about the situation; peeing is a way to show deference and disarm any conflict before it begins. For both reasons, the greeting situation needs to be kept nonchalant, with very little attention given to the dog.

In the case of excitement-based urination, avoid using a high-pitched, excited voice and making eye contact or reaching down immediately to pet the dog. Instead, use a relaxed, calm voice and get into a kneeling or sitting position with your body turned sideways to your dog as she comes up to greet you, without giving eye contact or reaching toward her.

Dogs who are exhibiting submission urination are less likely to piddle if they are touched under their chin or on their chest. They are more likely to leak if petted on their head or back or hugged. Some dogs may need to be completely ignored without talking or petting them at all during the first few minutes until they will relax enough not to piddle. Other dogs will not urinate as long as they are approached in a non-threatening stance with a calm voice and are petted in appropriate areas. Work with your dog to see what is best for her.

Turn Greeting Time Into Playtime

You can also try to turn a greeting situation into another type of situation altogether. Rather than greeting mode, get your dog into play mode or food acquisition mode so that she has something to think about other than greeting you or a visitor. One way is to toss multiple treats on the floor for your dog to hunt when someone comes in the door and continue tossing treats until your dog has relaxed enough to greet calmly. You can also have a pre-stuffed Kong or food puzzle to give your dog to occupy her during the first couple of minutes of greeting. If your dog would rather be close to you than independently working for treats, get her to do some basic behaviors for rewards, such as targeting a mat and lying down, shaking, spinning or doing other fun tricks that can give her an alternative way to greet visitors.

Another option is to get your dog into the play and exploration mode by switching her focus to a fun game. If your dog loves the tennis ball, turn the experience of people coming in the door into the start of a game of fetch in the house by throwing a tennis ball down the hall when someone enters and continuing to play until she relaxes. You can also engage her in a structured game of tug or an opportunity to chase a stuffed animal on the end of a rope.

By the same token, be sure to instruct visitors to ignore your pooch when they first walk in the door and to withhold eye contact and resist reaching for your puppy until she has calmed down. Instead, give them structured ways to say hello to her, such as tossing treats on the floor or hand targeting.

Over time, as you continue your training, your dog should start to relax and calm down during greetings, which in turn should decrease the amount of piddling. Not only will your carpet have less mess, but most important, your dog will gain more confidence and will have reliable ways to cope when she is excited or overwhelmed.