Ironically, submissive behaviour in dogs is often misread as dominance. Talk about being 100% wrong, aye? Submissive dogs, especially when mishandled, are often called wimps. Wow, submissive dogs just get no respect! Yet they often make the best family dogs. Let’s take a closer look at submissiveness.

Following Is a Good Trait

A pack needs a leader, but smooth leadership is impossible without good followers. Many of the best followers are also capable of leadership if they perceive the pack needs leadership skill from them. In their submissiveness, they choose to follow a worthy leader. 

Dogs know a good leader when they meet one. Part of this perception is through reading each other’s body language, and part is through interacting with each other. Interaction through play can work out many pack issues if the dogs have the physical ability to play without pain and if they have the space they need. 

The second in command in a pack may be a worthy leader ready to step up, since this dog often does most of the enforcing of pack order. The pack leader doesn’t have to waste his energy dealing with day-to-day pack squabbles when he has a good lieutenant. A look, a growl, or putting his body in a strategic position causes other dogs in the pack to cool it.

It’s the second-in-command who kicks hiney and takes names when pack underlings need to be bounced around the block to get them in line. When a pack leader dies, the second-in-command may move into the role with no fighting at all, but lots of fighting among the others to choose a new second-in-command enforcer. 

When a human pushes a dog in an effort to MAKE the dog submissive, the message to the dog is that this human is unsure of being pack leader. Whether your dog is dominant or submissive (both often mischaracterized), your fighting with the dog is apt to lead to miscommunication. 

Your safest course is to train the dog instead, thinking ahead, having a plan and working with a good trainer so that you never compete against your dog. Instead, you need to take charge without a contest. Proper management and training will put you in the leadership position, whether your dog is more inclined by nature to be a leader or a follower. You can pattern your dog to follow you, and that is the goal.

You won’t be able to control whether your dog is dominant or submissive toward other dogs. Humans can’t even reliably tell which dog is the dominant or submissive at any given time, and the dogs change the pack order for various situations. Our best course is to rise above pack order and be the human leader. 

A dog forced into submission to a same-sex dog in the home can wind up content, oppressed, or in dire physical danger, and it’s hard to know which result you’re going to get when you adopt the second dog. The more dogs of the same sex you have, the higher the risk of fighting, and it’s far higher in some breeds (and mixes) than in others. The safest combination of dogs is one male and one female. Beyond that, there is always risk from pack order disputes that the dogs cannot work out.

One way we see the stress that living in submission to another dog of the same sex can cause is when the dominant dog dies or the two dogs are separated. Quite often the submissive dog will blossom, develop new talents, and be much happier. Even though the two dogs may be quite attached to each other, if the relationship is turbulent, the submissive partner takes the brunt of it.

Submissiveness to Humans

Never assume that a dog’s failure to act on your command is defiance. More likely it’s confusion, stress, or submissiveness. When in doubt, it is a natural reaction in many dogs to freeze. Our language is just as confusing to dogs as their language is to us. Training helps build clearer communication between dog and human, but we must be willing to put in plenty of time, practice and patience so that the dog can figure out what the heck we want.

You can teach most dogs that it pays to be submissive to you. Whether it’s treats, praise, games or privileges, you have lots of good things you can use to reward desired behaviour in your dog. The dog will work hard for generous rewards the particular dog likes. Good training includes developing in your dog a love of as many different rewards as possible. This allows you to build your dog’s motivation higher and higher.

This is no different from humans working for the rewards that motivate us. Remember, too, that no matter how long the dog has been doing a behaviour, you still need to reward it. You would not continue going to work for a boss who used to give you pay checks five years ago, but stopped paying you because he figured you know the job by now!

Submissiveness as a Choice

Savvy dogs who could lead a pack if needed and who possess sophisticated knowledge of pack structure often choose a submissive role. They do this with a human they trust, and they do it with a dog pack leader who they perceive is strong and worthy. Don’t assume your dog is a “wimp” because the dog hangs back and lets others lead. Should that dog’s talents ever be needed, you may well discover there’s a strong leader ready to step up. It’s thrilling when this happens. 

Good training with a good handler builds self-esteem, confidence, and enjoyment in life for the submissive dog. You may find this dog easy to handle in training classes and at dog events because of his or her skill at projecting submissiveness to other dogs. Submissive dogs can be some of the very nicest companions. 

If you have one of these special dogs, cherish your canine friend. And don’t be surprised if this dog shows you there’s a Superdog under that Clark Kent disguise!

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The posture of submission stems from the ritualization of the urination process by the mother. At the end of the meal, the mother turns the puppies over and grooms them. This same posture is also seen in adults. During a fight, the subordinate dog lies on his back, which serves to stop the aggression of the adversary. However, other forms of submission can also be observed such as the cry a puppy makes when he is grabbed by the skin of his neck. Pressure exerted in this region is associated with hierarchical fights. The submissive position is a ritual. It has a cohesive function in the social group. It helps prevent attacks. Some dogs are unable to acquire the ability to submit (absence of submissive posture) and are dangerous because they are very aggressive. And since they do not submit, the other dog becomes aggressive. Other signs of submission are also observed such as averting the eyes in an indirect look to avoid the eyes of the dominant dog, tail dropped low, lateral decubitus position with one hind leg lifted and flight. In a human-dog pack, the owner must learn to recognize the submissive posture of his dog because continuing to be aggressive toward the dog when the dog has already submitted may lead to behavioural problems.

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