VCA Animal Hospitals

Is my dog overly submissive?

Published: Jan 15, 2013

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Some dogs are assertive, others can be aggressive, and still others are submissive. If yours doesn't mind giving the role of alpha dog to another canine she meets on the street, there's a good chance she leans toward the submissive side. Usually, a dog demonstrates this characteristic by flopping onto her back, thereby signaling to the other dog that she is not looking for a fight.

What is submissive behavior?

Even if you have been raising puppies your whole life, you cannot control the assertive or submissive tendencies of dogs. These behaviors date back to their ancestors in wolf packs, where rolling on the ground represented deference to the "alpha" dogs in the group. It also helped wolves avoid fights because it convinced an aggressor to back off. Vetstreet.com reports that in domestic animals today, this behavior does not mean that a dog is weak or fearful, but rather that she is a good communicator.

Can submissive behavior be a bad sign?

Although submissive behaviors in an otherwise assertive dog are healthy and normal, sometimes these actions can be indicators of behavior problems like phobias. If your dog rolls over consistently in certain situations - like when you bring out the vacuum - she could have a phobia that needs the attention of a veterinarian or board-certified animal behavior specialist. There are a number of training techniques you can employ to ease the dog's anxiety. Most importantly, during a negative reaction, it is important not to touch your dog in an attempt to comfort her. In some cases, this will encourage the behavior, since she is getting positive reinforcement for her negative reaction. In other cases, it can frighten her even more and may even lead to dog aggression.

Can I control submissive behaviors?

In addition to rolling on their backs, some dogs express fear, anxiety or submission through urination. VCA Animal Hospitals reports that submissive urination commonly occurs in puppies and young female dogs, although it can occur in all dogs. Some dogs will grow out of it, but others will require treatment. Generally, the best way to treat this pet health issue is by adjusting your behavior in order to reduce a pet's excitement, fear or anxiety, aiming for a calm greeting.

If your dog is urinating out of fear or submissiveness, it is important not to react in a threatening manner - do not stand over the dog or reproach her. This will only lead to more fear or submissive feelings and thus more urination. Keep your approaches relaxed and consistent to boost your dog's confidence in the situation.

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