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Why are Some Dogs Submissive?

To flee a confrontation, dogs cannot wave a small white flag. For us humans, it’s sometimes apparent how to interpret the submission signals given by dogs. Instead, they use their body language to communicate that they should not be deemed as a threat. But what are the other reasons a dog becomes submissive?

Dogs exhibit a variety of submissive behaviors. These actions are canine communication methods. A dog will frequently exhibit submissive behavior to convey that he is amiable and approachable.

Why Do Some Dogs Display Submissive Behavior?

Humans often misunderstand dogs’ dominant and submissive behaviors. It is best to avoid overanalyzing the general concepts of dominant and submissive. In fact, due to their associations with antiquated, incorrect theories about canine hierarchy and pack mentality, many behaviorists and trainers attempt to steer clear of these terms.

Dogs exhibit dominance and submission as general behaviors, not as personality traits. These actions serve as body language communication tools. The interaction between the dog and the other person or animal is the subject of the behavior displayed. Submission is a prerequisite for dominance, so in a relationship with a dog, one party can only be dominant when the dog voluntarily offers to submit.

Furthermore, it’s crucial to realize that aggression does not equate with submission. Fear is the most frequent cause of aggressive behavior, and dominance is rarely involved.

When a dog behaves submissively, they form or strengthens a bond with a particular human or animal. In another relationship, the same dog might be in charge. Although some dogs frequently align themselves with one another in relationships, this does not necessarily indicate that you have a dominant dog or a submissive dog.

A dog trying to convey that he is not a threat typically acts submissively. This message may be directed at people, dogs, or animals. The dog may occasionally be playing and wants the other person to know it. Or a dog might be unsure of the other person’s intentions. He tries to calm the other person or animal and himself. Because of this, many supposedly submissive behaviors are referred to as calming signals or appeasement gestures. Dogs frequently use these signals to diffuse frightening or tense situations.

Your dog typically tries to be respectful and affectionate when he behaves submissively toward you. It also implies that he has faith in you and feels secure in your presence. Even though he might perceive you as the relationship’s dominant partner, this does not require you to alter your behavior in any way.

What is the Cause of This Behavior

Since dogs are pack animals and have wolf ancestry, submission is instinctual. There is always the pack leader or the alpha dog. The lowest-ranking dog is also present, as well as every dog in between. A dog will submit to you as a sign of respect and show that he respects and trusts you. This does not imply that he won’t stand up for you and act as a good guardian. It simply means that your dog recognizes you as the pack’s leader and has faith in your ability to look out for him and provide him with security. In addition, some dogs exhibit submissive traits when they sense danger or are frightened. This can be sparked by a variety of things, including other aggressive dogs, lightning storms, or even abuse.

If your dog is calm and non-aggressive, you can tell if he is submissive. He will display behaviors like lying down, lowering his gaze, shrinking his body, hiding, licking the chin of another dog, or repositioning his ears. This behavior is typically entirely normal. You might want your dog to be able to assert his dominance a little bit more if he is overly fearful and submissive, though. If you have multiple dogs, remember that one will act as the alpha dog and the other as the beta dog. They will not consider themselves to be equals. There will always be a difference in how submissive each is. It would be best if you didn’t assume that your dog is afraid of you because submissive behavior is a natural response in dogs. If you think your dog is being too submissive, there are ways to help them become more dominant. You can raise these issues with your veterinarian if you think your dog may be experiencing anxiety problems that cause him to act overly timid, scared, or submissive.

How to Tell If Your Dog is Dominant or Submissive?

Most dog owners know that when interacting with their canine companion, they must act as pack leaders. Even with younger kids, he should be submissive to prevent aggression and other problematic behaviors.

But since each dog has a unique tendency toward dominance or submission, the amount of effort required to establish this role will vary from dog to dog.

Knowing your dog’s natural tendencies can help you be more prepared, but how do you figure out whether they tend to be dominant or submissive? Socializing them with other dogs and carefully monitoring their behavior around the pack are two ways to help.

Here are a few things to be on the lookout for:

Dominant Dogs

  • Mounting other dogs, whether they be male or female
  • Guarding or stealing food and toys
  • Obtaining the attention of every other dog, even when they don’t want it.
  • When out with other dogs, pushing their way to the front.
  • Making canines waiting for them
  • Seldom kissing the mouths of other dogs
  • Every time the dogs play tug of war, they win.
  • Starting competitions and prevailing in all of them

Submissive Dogs

  • When greeting other dogs, they will occasionally urinate submissively
  • When other dogs glare, turning away
  • Letting other dogs prevail in a tug-of-war
  • Giving other dogs a lot of love and attention, especially by licking their mouths
  • Restraining oneself when other dogs attempt to steal food or toys
  • Displaying their belly by rolling over on their backs

Because most dogs fall somewhere in the middle of the dominant-submissive spectrum and because the level of dominance that your dog exhibits will probably vary depending on the group of dogs that they are with, a dog doesn’t need to exhibit all of these behaviors for you to consider her dominant or submissive.

Is Your Dog’s Submissive Behavior Dangerous?

An excessive display of submission indicates fear. Because people frequently underestimate the amount of harm they can cause, dogs that bite out of fear are more dangerous than dogs that bite out of aggression.

Dogs’ Submissive Behaviors

Some canine behaviors are typically regarded as submissive. The majority of these actions are similar to playfulness and appeasement gestures.

Submissive Urination

Excitation urination is another name for submissive urination. Although it can also happen with adult dogs, this behavior is somewhat typical in puppies. Submissive or excitable urination, frequently occurring when a person or animal approaches the dog or stands over the dog, is quite different from inappropriate urination. Dogs may behave this way as a sign of respect for another individual, but they may also do so out of fear or insecurity. Many puppies naturally outgrow this behavior. By giving your dog more self-confidence, you can aid in the reduction of submissive urination. Scolding or punishing your dog for submissive or excitement-related urination can worsen matters.

Exposed Abdomen

When a person or another animal approaches, many dogs display their bellies or turn over onto their side or back. This is frequently a sign of submission, though it could also be an appeal for play or belly rubs. If a dog has shown you his abdomen, look for additional cues that he is submitting or having fun. If you don’t know the dog very well, be kind and move slowly to avoid frightening it. Start slowly and gently rubbing his belly if you want to. If the dog shows signs of anxiety or discomfort, stop.

Yawn Big When Stressed And Submissive

Dogs use numerous signals to indicate that they are dissatisfied with a situation. When a dog is threatened or stressed, it will frequently yawn or lick its lips to defuse the situation. It exhibits submissive behavior toward other dogs or people in the vicinity. Just like humans, dogs yawn when they are tired. Examine the dog’s entire body language to determine what the yawn could mean.

Averting Gaze

Mainly when there is a relationship between two dogs, direct eye contact may be viewed as a threat by dogs. The dog conveys that he is not attempting to confront or threaten the other person by averting his eyes and turning his gaze away. Although our dogs occasionally glare at us for different reasons, this shouldn’t be interpreted as a sign of dominance.

Ears Pushed Back or Flattened

While every dog is unique when at ease or relaxed, most dogs maintain some degree of erectness in their ears. The position of the ear base may help you determine this in dogs with floppy ears, even though it may be difficult to see. An intentional message is conveyed when a dog flattens or holds his ears back. This could indicate that the dog is anxious or afraid. It can occasionally be seen as a surrender. Observing the eyes and overall body language is the most effective way to make this determination.

Tail Lowered

Another sign of submission in dogs is when their tails are wagging low or are slightly tucked. The dog might be nervous or afraid as a result, though.

Lowered Body Posture

The act of lowering one’s body may be a dog’s attempt to appear small and unthreatening. This posture may not be related to fear, although it is frequently a response to a frightening situation. The dog may attempt to demonstrate submission to the other person or animal.

Curl Up To Be Small While Lying Down

A submissive dog frequently snoozes curled up tight in the fetal position. This conceals their vulnerable belly while they rest and warns other dogs that they are not a danger. In order to stay warm, dogs keep themselves small. Most pet owners frequently consider the behavior cute, but it is actually common dog language and one of the uncertain submissive dog behaviors.

Licking the Muzzle of Another Dog

One way for a dog to show respect is by gently licking another dog’s muzzle. It might also be applied to a different dog in a stressful situation to help it relax. When two dogs first meet or when they have known one another for a long time, muzzle licking may happen. Unless the dogs start getting along badly, this behavior is normal and doesn’t need human intervention.

Lip Licking

A typical appeasement gesture that conveys a reassuring, non-threatening message is licking one’s lips. It is occasionally used to signify submission to humans or other animals. It usually happens when the dog is anxious or afraid.

Grinning or Smiling

Some canines grin or smile while showing their teeth. This might appear to be an aggressive threat at first. It is important to distinguish between a toothy grin and bared teeth, which can be an aggressive warning sign. When a dog smiles or grins and the rest of the body is relaxed or in a submissive position, the dog is not attempting to threaten. This expression is sometimes referred to as a submissive grin. Typically, the gesture is meant to convey friendliness and approachability.

How to React to Dogs Who Display Submissive Behavior

Remember that a dog acting submissive attempts to communicate that he poses no threat. Submissive behaviors can emerge before play or in response to perceived danger. It would be best to consider the entire context to interpret the behavior.

Consider going to a dog park with your dog. You notice your dog lowering his posture and looking away after the dogs greet one another and begin to sniff behind. This is probably your dog’s saying that all he wants to do is play. A play bow could come after it. These actions by your dog are intended to convey a friendly, playful message to the other dog. This indicates that the dogs are getting along, which is a good sign. Keep watching the dogs play in case anything changes.

When a dog acts submissive to you, he might be putting you in a position of respect and authority. The dog may become fearful and exhibit defensive aggression as a result of your actions, so there is no need to act differently to demonstrate your “dominance.” It is best to maintain calmness while maintaining confidence to reinforce the behavior. The dog will know you are trustworthy if you do this.

Encouraging Good Behavior

There are several things you can do to encourage your dog to open up and exhibit a little more dominance if he is excessively submissive. The first step is to socialize your dogs as much as you can. Allow him to socialize with other canines at dog parks or in your neighborhood. If he’s particularly intimidating, you should go slowly. Never force your dog to socialize with other dogs. Make a room in your house that is reserved for your dog. This could be a bed in the back corner, a cage with a bed, or any other place he can hide out when he gets too excited or needs some space. Make sure that your dog feels safe here.

Allow your dog to gradually get used to new environments, people, or dogs. Your dog will become progressively less fearful of things and more dominant. Your dog should always receive positive reinforcement and treats for accomplishments. If you believe your dog was mistreated before becoming your pet, consider speaking with a specialist to help him overcome some of the fear instilled in him. Ask your veterinarian if they have any advice for you.

Ways to Increase Your Dog’s Confidence

You can boost your submissive dog’s confidence in a number of ways. Here are some things you may want to try.

Obedience Training

Even if it is only for a brief period, daily obedience training gives submissive dogs confidence. Family members are pleased when their dogs follow instructions, and dogs sense this pride.

However, if the dog is being taught to be submissive harshly, it will only worsen. Locate a training program that uses rewards and positive reinforcement in your area. A submissive dog should not be trained using a discipline-based system by the trainer.

Reward Your Dog for Approaching Strangers

Provide a limited number of treats for guests. If the dog approaches while the visitor is oblivious, have the visitor toss a treat in the dog’s general direction to reward him. This helps the dog gain confidence by teaching him that visitors are a good thing.

Socialize Your Dog As Much As Possible

Your dog’s sensitive socialization period ended when she was a puppy, at around 15 weeks old. Despite her advanced age, however, she can still be socialized; it will require much more effort.

Taking your dog out as often as possible, letting her meet new people, your friends’ dogs, if they get along with other dogs, and letting her run free at the dog park so that she will meet new dogs are all good ways to socialize with your dog. This stage might only appear later (since some dogs will be too anxious to play in the dog park).

Get Them Involved with Everything

If you have livestock and your dog is a herder, he probably will only have time to become overly submissive because he’ll be too busy keeping the animals in line.

Nevertheless, since most dogs cannot work, it is a good idea to enroll them in a canine sport so they have something to do and can develop their confidence. There might be activities in your area like flyball, agility, frisbee, dock diving, and others.

Play Confidence-Building Activities

Tug-of-war games are not only entertaining, but they also boost an anxious dog’s self-assurance. To get the dog to take a tug toy:

  • Try shaking it in front of him.
  • Make silly noises and praise the dog when he tugs back as you pull on the toy’s other end.
  • Most importantly, let the dog win to boost confidence.

Counter-Conditioning Techniques

The best way to train a submissive dog is to use this technique, but it is also the most difficult. Your dog must be trained to associate pleasant feelings with each thing he is afraid of. A dog will no longer be submissive when he has overcome his fear of the circumstance and feels confident.

Identifying the trigger is the first step if you use counterconditioning to increase his confidence. What motivates your dog to behave in such a submissive manner? It would be simpler to train a submissive dog if he was only afraid of one thing, but sadly, most are scared of almost everything. Get to know your dog and his fears by spending time with him.

The next step is to show him that the terrifying thing is beneficial. Give him a tasty treat and allow him to relax in the vicinity of the frightening object after he has been exposed to it.

The last step in helping your dog overcome his fears is to expose him without giving him a treat or even letting him know that he is being exposed.

More Suggestions for Working with a Submissive Dog

An excessively submissive dog shouldn’t be handled the same way as a happy-go-lucky or dominant dog. This issue can be resolved if you apply the above mentioned techniques and give your dog extra tender loving care.

  • When you enter the room, resist the urge to pet your dog.
  • Don’t fixate on your dog.
  • If your dog messes on the carpet, do not chastise her. Put her in a different room or outside in a secure yard so she cannot see you cleaning up.
  • Don’t pat your dog on the head with your hand while she’s on your lap.
  • Avoid hugging your dog.
  • Keep your voice from being agitated or excited, even if you are about to take the dog for a walk.
  • Never lock your dog in the crate whenever a visitor comes to the house. You are only encouraging her to act in a submissive manner.
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