* Wet greetings -
Mark's Rottweiler, Rocky, is five months old. Whenever Mark comes home, Rocky bounces around and wiggles wildly in excited greeting -- and urinates all over the place. Usually Mark just cleans it up and tries to ignore the behavior. Sometimes Mark loses his temper and scolds Rocky. The scolding makes the behavior worse.
Mark's frustration is understandable. When he offers Rocky love and affection, the dog urinates. When he scolds or punishes Rocky, the dog urinates. The first step toward resolving this problem is to realize that it is completely natural. Urination while greeting or being punished is a common dog behavior.
For puppies, this behavior usually takes on one of two forms. Excitement urination is the result of infant muscles that simply cannot hold their urine when the pup gets excited. Rocky's behavior is partially excitement urination. He can get so excited when he sees his owner that he temporarily loses control of his bladder. The vast majority of dogs simply outgrow this problem as they become stronger and gain control of their muscles.
Submissive urination falls into a completely different category. Dogs have several behaviors designed to reduce violence between them. When challenged, a submissive dog must display some or all of these behaviors to display its lower status and to prevent an attack. Submissive urination is most commonly offered in this type of greeting. By wetting, the dog is merely acknowledging the other dog's superiority.
While all dogs are capable of offering this behavior, few are as bad as Rocky. Whenever he perceives a threat he eliminates before anyone gets the idea that he might have a dominant bone in his body. To him, this behavior is perfectly acceptable and required.
When friends come to visit, Rocky is worse than usual. If a guest attempts to bend over and "pet the nice doggie," it triggers the behavior. If someone rings the bell, Mark tries to scoop up Rocky and put him outside before he has a chance to eliminate in the house. It never works. As soon as Mark bends over to pick him up, Rocky urinates again.
Fixing the problem starts with understanding what signals trigger Rocky's reaction. First, dogs assume that direct eye contact is a challenge. For a submissive dog, even a moment's eye contact can be intolerable. Eye contact from above, indicating that they other dog is taller, heightens this reaction. For Rocky, a person towering over the top of him is guaranteed to cause a submissive gesture.
Another signal that canines perceive as a challenge is bending over or touching the dog's head, neck or shoulders. Dominant dogs often display their control by placing their neck, or a paw over another dog's neck or shoulders. When a human pats a dog on the head, a submissive dog perceives it as a display of dominance. The pooch is likely to roll over on its back and wet.
To change Rocky's greeting behavior, Mark needs to avoid those situations that instantly trigger urination. When he gets home he will avoid eye contact, not bend over to greet Rocky, and in general ignore the dog for the first few minutes. If he does not trigger the reaction, he will try some very calm words of greeting and gradually add physical affection over the next few minutes. After the physical affection, if Rocky still has not eliminated , Mark will tell him "good boy" and give him a treat.
The use of food for successful greetings is an important ingredient for success. Since physical petting may actually cause the behavior to happen, food as a reinforcement is a logical alternative. Another advantage to using food is that urination and eating are very difficult for a dog to do at the same time. The dog's response to the food competes with the urge to eliminate, and strengthens the correct behavior. *
Guests to the home should be encouraged to pretend Rocky doesn't exist. If they absolutely must greet him, confine the greeting to outdoors. Barriers such as kiddy gates can allow Rocky to get used to the person's presence before actually greeting them. While this reduces his tendency to eliminate at first sight, you must still eventually deal with the actual greeting. When you remove the gate, it is a good idea to discourage him from rushing quickly at people and jumping on them, as it puts him in a position that is likely to trigger the submissive urination.
For Mark and Rocky the solution to this very common problem is a combination of things. Mark is going to reduce the likelihood that Rocky is going to greet people incorrectly. He will do this by asking guests to ignore the dog. He is only going to allow uncontrolled greeting outside where and accident won't damage the carpet. Whenever Rocky performs a correct greeting he is going to use food and limited affection to reinforce the behavior. Mark is also going to give Rocky some time to outgrow the problem.
* Note for clicker trainers: The use of a conditioned reinforcer makes this problem even easier to solve. Since the click means "end of behavior", it helps the dog realize that "greeting is over" and allows you to control the distance between you and the dog.