Pet Connection by Dr. Marty Becker, Kim Campbell Thornton and Mikkel Becker


If you have a dog who urinates when you scold him or greet him, chances are you are not dealing with a house-training problem. Rather, your dog is exhibiting a behavior the experts call "submissive urination" -- and you'll need a positive, no-punishment approach to get your pup to dry up.

It helps to know what sets this behavior apart from poor house-training. That means learning a little about canine body language, the way dogs and wolves communicate with one another.

Although dogs are domesticated, they still have a lot in common with their wild relatives. Dogs adjust to being members of our families so well because, like us, they have evolved to feel comfortable within a social structure. For dogs and wolves, the family is the pack, and to live harmoniously within it, they need to share a common language that allows some pack members to establish higher rank than others. If fighting settled all disputes, the pack members would soon be so chewed up they wouldn't be able to hunt. So instead, dogs and wolves use ritual behaviors to establish and reinforce pack order.

Submissive urination is one of those behaviors. A lower-status animal will crouch in the presence of more dominant pack members and release a little urine to signal that he accepts his place. He may even roll over on his back and then release urine. The behavior that so annoys humans is perfectly acceptable -- and understandable -- among dogs and wolves.

Among pet dogs, the behavior is more common in puppies and youngsters, and in some breeds or mixes known for their gentle, shy or anxious natures. Dogs who have been abused may also urinate submissively. In these dogs, the message they're trying to convey is heartbreaking: Please don't hurt me anymore! While some dogs urinate when confronted by anyone, even in a friendly manner, others react submissively only when scolded, or when approached by what they see as a particularly intimidating person, such as a man who's very tall or has a deep, booming voice.

Before starting to work on correcting submissive urination, have your pet checked out by your veterinarian to make sure there's no medical difficulty either at the root of the behavior or contributing to the problem. Some medical conditions may make urine-control difficult, and if that's the case, your pet will need to be made healthy before training can be expected to have much of an effect.

Never punish a dog for submissive urination, not only because it's ineffective, but also because it can make the problem worse. Instead, resolve to keep interactions low-key and upbeat, and gently reward your pet for proper greeting behavior -- docile and dry.

When greeting your pup, work to be less dominant. Keep your voice low and quiet, don't make direct eye contact, and come down to your dog's level to lessen your height. Crouch rather than bend at the knees so you don't loom over your dog.

Obedience training is a good confidence builder. Teach your dog to sit and shake hands, and ask for and reward those behaviors when you greet your pet. Since some dogs find a pat on the head intimidating, reward your dog by petting him under the chin, or by scratching him on the chest.

Make sure all family members handle the dog properly, and ask visitors to do the same. For many young dogs, the problem will resolve itself as they mature, although you can speed things up by working to build your pet's confidence and trust. For other dogs, especially those who've been abused, training may be a frustrating and long-term process.

Correcting submissive behavior might take some time. But with patience, consistency and kindness, you can usually resolve the behavior -- and gain a happier, more confident pet in the bargain.

(Gina Spadafori has the week off. This column originally appeared in 2002.)


Is high energy normal for pup?

Q: My wife and I have a 12-year-old yellow Labrador and a 10-year-old golden. My newly married daughter went to the pound and brought home a 1-year-old yellow Labrador to a one-bed room apartment. That did not work, so guess who inherited him?

He is great, but we were used to mellow dogs after all these years. He is wearing us out. Despite having a huge fenced back yard and an older male dog friend who will occasionally run with him, the puppy demands to play only with us. We throw him his ball 50 times and he wants the 51st. Any suggestions? My arm hurts. -- S.B., via e-mail

A: Congratulations! You have a normal 1-year-old Labrador. You probably have long forgotten what your older retrievers were like when they were yearlings. Retrievers typically don't mature into that lovely, mellow companion stage until over the age of 2 (and in many cases, closer to 4). I live with retrievers. I love retrievers. They're brain-dead until 2, and just about the best dogs in the world at 5.

Get a Chuck-It tennis ball flinger to spare your arm and keep throwing. If the dog's not kept exercised, he'll find something worse to do than pester you.

Keeping retrievers exercised is essential to keeping them happy and you sane. If at all possible, include swimming -- retrieving in water -- in his exercise regiment. Retrievers are made to swim, after all, and a half-hour of swimming wears a dog out like nothing I know.

Q: I read your article on tips for travel with pets. We travel with our schnauzer, so we are familiar with the rules for traveling with a pet.

In your article you state that if you are going to leave your pet alone in the motel room to make sure you offer a biscuit to keep the pet comfortable. It is interesting that you should say that, because in all the hotels and motels we have stayed, we have to sign a notice stating that we are not to leave our pet in the room alone ever. So when we go out to dinner, we always take her with us or we have room service. Could you pass this information on to your readers? -- P.G., via e-mail

A: You didn't get that tip from me. I would never suggest leaving a pet loose and alone in a motel room. If the animal is quiet and well-behaved, it's OK to leave them in the room secured in a crate, but never loose.

Aside from the potential for destructiveness and noise, a pet could escape if hotel staff had to enter the room for some reason. Pets have a higher risk of being lost when in unfamiliar surroundings such as when on a family vacation. That's why I'm a real believer in ID tags (with your cell phone number on them), microchips (for permanent ID), good leashes and study travel crates.

Crates can't be beat as a travel accessory for pets. Although traveling with a crate sized for a large dog can present some packing challenges, including a crate for a small dog vastly increases your flexibility when it comes to travel. With a crate, your dog is on the road with his own safe, comfortable hotel room.

Soft-sided crates are great for carry-on air travel and more casual short trips, but a hard-sided carrier will offer the most options when it comes to keeping your pet safe and secure while on the road. Made of high-impact plastic, hard-sided crates are not expensive to acquire, and they can double as part of your disaster preparation kit, just in case.

(Do you have a pet question? Send it to


Check pets often for icky ticks

Although ticks can transmit diseases, they are usually nothing more than a nuisance. The best approach is to prevent them from embedding, or once embedded, to remove them quickly.

The best way to find ticks on your pet is to run your hands over the whole body. Check for ticks every time your pet comes back from somewhere you know is inhabited by ticks. Ticks attach most frequently around the pet's head, ears, neck and feet, but are by no means restricted to those areas.

The safest way to remove a tick is to use rubbing alcohol and a pair of tweezers. Dab rubbing alcohol on the tick, and then use the tweezers to take hold of the tick as close to the dog's skin as you can; pull slowly and steadily. Try not to leave the tick's head embedded in the dog's skin.

Don't squeeze the tick, because it might inject some disease-causing organisms (such as bacteria, viruses or protozoa) into the animal during the process. Risk of disease transmission to you while removing ticks is low, but you should wear gloves if you wish to be perfectly safe. Do not apply hot matches, petroleum jelly, turpentine, nail polish or alcohol to ticks, because these methods do not remove the ticks, and they are not safe for your pet.

Once you have removed a live tick, don't dispose of it until you have killed it. Put the tick in alcohol or insecticide to kill it.

(Pet Rx is provided by the Veterinary Information Network (, an online service for veterinary professionals. More information can be found at


Daily Drool just for basset fans

The folks behind the Daily Drool ( love basset hounds, and they want to share their admiration of the breed with other like-minded people. The well-designed Web site offers everything you could want in the way of information about bassets, along with plenty of entertaining diversions such as e-cards, images and more.

What's the best way to get a basset hound into a vehicle? With a ramp, says the Drool, which offers downloadable directions on how to make one. A definite labor of love, the Web site supports itself and basset rescue through donations and from the proceeds of steering people toward Drool-endorsed books and other products. Either way, it's a good site to support and a good cause, too.

If you have basset hounds, you'll love this online community. Baooowww-woooo!


Specialists offer options in veterinary care

Although not as many specialists exist in veterinary medicine as in human medicine, the number and the kinds of certified veterinary experts grow every year.

Current companion-animal specialties include such "system" areas of expertise as cardiology, dentistry, dermatology and oncology. There are also "species" specialists, such as those veterinarians certified as experts on bird health. Behavior specialists are becoming more common as well. These veterinarians help people and their pets work through such problems as house-soiling or separation anxiety with the aid of medication and behavior-modification techniques.

"System" specialties usually require additional study in a two- to five-year residency program, followed by a rigorous examination. These certifications are handled by a board such as the American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine, which is why certified specialists are sometimes referred to as "boarded" or "board-certified."

For veterinarians already in practice, the American Board of Veterinary Practitioners also offers specialty certifications, including those in feline and avian practice. The certifications also require passing a difficult examination.

Many urban centers support independent specialists or specialty practices. But in less populated areas, you're more likely to find a full complement of specialists at the closest university with a school or college of veterinary medicine.

The relationship between your pet's regular veterinarian and a specialist is one of cooperation and trust. Your veterinarian will consult with or refer you to a specialist knowing that when the situation he sent you there for is resolved, you will be sent back to his practice. Without this understanding, your regular veterinarian would be understandably reluctant to refer a client he will not get back.

If your veterinarian is reluctant to refer you to a specialist, remember that the final decision in your pet's care is always yours. Keep the lines of communication open with your veterinarian if you can, but realize your pet's care is your responsibility, and seek a second option or specialist on your own.


Pets? No thanks

Interest in and spending on pets has grown in the last couple of decades, but not everyone is rushing to add something furry, feathered or finned to their families. The top five reasons cited (more than one response was allowed) for not wanting a pet include:

Don't want to clean up after a pet 35 percent

Not home enough 33 percent

Shedding 30 percent

Too much responsibility 30 percent

Too expensive 25 percent

Source: American Pet Products Manufacturers Association


Not all birds flock together

The wide range in size of pet birds suggests that keeping some species together is just asking for trouble. Picture the largest macaw with a tiny budgie, and you can see some conflict potential.

If forced to choose just one bird that doesn't mingle well, though, avian experts will usually point to the grey-cheeked parakeet.

The little bird with a big attitude is usually a sweetie with people but is always ready to rumble with other parrots. These cheeky little guys won't shy away from picking a fight with a much larger bird -- which almost certainly leads to injury.

Pay attention to the sizes and the personalities of your birds. And be aware that while some might coexist peacefully, others might need to be housed not just in different cages but in different rooms -- especially if one of your pets is the pugnacious grey-cheeked parakeet.

Gina Spadafori is the award-winning author of "Dogs for Dummies," "Cats for Dummies" and "Birds for Dummies." She is also affiliated with the Veterinary Information Network Inc., an international online service for veterinary professionals. Write to her in care of this newspaper, or send e-mail to You can also read her frequently updated Web log or view her column archives at

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