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Piddly puppy needs a little training
Dear Dr. Spiegel, I have a five month old female Golden Retriever puppy. She is very sweet and lovable. She loves people and gets very excited whenever anyone comes to visit. The problem is when these visitors reach to pet her, she piddles. It's very embarrassing. We've scolded her when she's done this, but it hasn't helped. Our vet said it would pass with time, but we just can't wait. Can you help us? C.R. Wilmington
Dear C.R., Excitement urination is a fairly common behavioral problem in dogs. It begins almost exclusively when dogs are still puppies. They get so excited that they simply lose control of their bladders and dribble urine. This most typically occurs in the context of greeting. When people come to the door, the puppy gets excited. When they come in, the puppy gets even more excited. The wagging tail in these guys has often traveled up to include their whole back end which wiggles from side to side. As if this level of excitement isn't enough, when the visitors see a puppy they get all excited. This of course fuels the fire that's already burning in this very happy pup, and then when they reach down to pet her, it's simply too much excitement, and the pup loses control. I would imagine it's somewhat analogous to little kids and people wetting themselves when they're tickled too much or are laughing uncontrollably. So what is one to do? With some dogs, by simply ignoring the problem, it will pass with time. Here one is banking on the level of excitement waning as the puppy matures. But that means enduring the embarrassment and the carpet cleanings, with the possibility that it may persist well into the dogs adult life. The key in treating excitement urination is simply to control the level of excitement. You know that most of the time you can reach down and pet her with no problems. And visitors can usually do the same after they've been there awhile and she's settled down. So without any detailed behavior modification, you can simply instruct all visitors to not reach to pet the dog till after they've been there for 5-10 minutes, or however long it takes your pup to settle down. And then the first reach to pet should be from beneath the pup's head, gently rubbing the underside of its neck. This is more calming and less likely to initiate problems. Taking her out for a long walk prior to the arrival of visitors can be very helpful as well. In doing this, she has an opportunity to empty her bladder and it can reduce the energy and level of excitement she brings to the greeting of your guests. A more detailed plan would involve desensitizing her to the stimuli that cause her to become overly excited (e.g., people coming to the door and entering your home, and hand motions towards her head and body in that context). Such a program entails teaching the dog to sit and stay calmly and quietly in non-exciting situations, then gradually building up the level of excitement that the dog must sit for. Then working with the dog sitting as you go in and out the door (non-exciting) and building to the more exciting situation of visitors entering. Simultaneously, you'd work on having her sit as you make hand motions (the trigger in this problem) towards her, and then incorporating these in your approaches towards her at the door. Finally you'd have visitors do these with her as well, all without stimulating her previous response of over-excitement and urination. Punishment or discipline should not be used to try to correct this problem. A puppy that urinates in excitement can easily turn into a puppy that urinates in submission or in fear.