You may think to yourself, “My dog is so weird. He pees when I or my friends greet him at the door. Why does he do that?” While that behaviour would certainly be weird if a person did it, urinating and other types of posturing are normal means of communication between dogs.
Humans place a great deal of importance on vocal communication. Although dogs do growl, bark and whine to communicate, posturing and chemical cues (pheromones and urine marking) are more important in dog packs.
There are numerous postures that more dominant or confident dogs will display when meeting each other:
1) Standing up tall with head held high
2) Tails held high
3) Bumping and nudging
Depending on the situation these postures could lead to play or conflict.
On the other hand, when more submissive dogs meet more confident dogs they may bow their heads, lower their tails, lay down and roll over or urinate as signals of appeasement.
So, dogs who have become members of human packs will still use the same posturing cues to communicate to their human pack members. If you approach your submissive dog and bend over him to lovingly pet him on the head, he will still view you as the dominant member and may display these postures.
Can you help your dog communicate with you differently? YES! Changing the postures you display may help change the postures your dog responds with. In the above scenario standing over the dog and petting the top of his head are dominant postures. Instead, kneeling down to the dog’s level and scratching under his chin or on his neck may prevent submissive posturing and urination.
Other tips that may help include:
- Calm greetings/interactions instead of excited/enthusiastic ones. Too much overstimulation can cause unexpected urination as well.
- Minimizing play that involves “wrestling” or body contact. Fetch and task-oriented games may help the dog focus on the game instead of “social cues”.
- Avoiding eye contact when interacting with the dog. Sustained eye contact can be perceived as a sign of dominance.
Understanding how dogs communicate with each other helps us understand how they communicate with us. If you have any questions about behaviours your dog is exhibiting at home, please call our hospital at 204-269-8162.
Tara Serrette, RVT