Is My Dog Submissive?

Have you ever wondered, “Is my dog submissive?” In moderation, submission is a good trait in a dog, as the owner should be the alpha in the relationship. But extreme submissive behaviors can be problematic for both pet and owner, and they’re often associated with unpleasant mental states such as anxiety and fear.

Submission in Dogs and Related Behaviors, Issues

A dog who regards the owner as the alpha is mentally healthy, some degree of submission is ideal in a pet. And it results in a pet who is much more relaxed and generally happy. Think of it like this: the alpha is the boss, the parent, the pack leader. But this “power” position is associated with a lot of responsibility and stress; It can weigh heavily on the dog’s psyche if he believes he’s the alpha, as he must be on constant alert and he must constantly defend his position as pack leader. Dogs are typically much happier and more content in a submissive role, as it’s much easier to be the follower.

But some dogs take this “follower” role to the extreme. The following characteristics are most often associated with an extremely submissive dog:

  • Nervousness;
  • Fear;
  • General anxiety;
  • Separation anxiety; and
  • Poor self-confidence.

Unfortunately, many extremely submissive dogs are the product of neglect or abuse. And it’s not necessarily the result of abuse at the hands of a human. Dogs who live with another dog who is an extremely dominant and aggressive pack leader (a tyrant of sorts) may exhibit extremely submissive behaviors, which serve as a survival mechanism. The dogs who are at the more extreme end of the submission spectrum are typically those individuals who have been subjected to neglect or abuse as a puppy or juvenile.

Signs of a Submissive Dog

The following behaviors are common in extremely submissive dogs:

  • Submissive urination — Submissive urination most commonly occurs during greetings or when the dog is being corrected. For obvious reasons, this is an undesirable behavior and one that can be difficult to resolve.
  • Head-down posture and crouching — A submissive dog will actively seek to make himself look smaller and non-threatening. This is accomplished by lowering the head and “bowing” slightly, or even sitting/crouching.
  • Rolling over/showing belly — Many submissive dogs will roll over when they’re greeting their owner or when they sense tension, as in the case of a correction.
  • “Smiling” or showing teeth — When a dog shows his teeth, it can actually be a submissive behavior. This show of teeth will be paired with other submissive behaviors like averting eyes, a head-down posture and the dog will often roll onto his or her back. A submissive show of teeth is *never* paired with defensive or aggressive body language/behaviors such as stiffness, growling, raised hair on the dog’s back, a hard stare and so forth.
  • Avoiding direct eye contact — The dog will avert his eyes rather than look eye-to-eye with the owner. Often, the dog will briefly make eye contact, before shifting his or her gaze.

Extreme submission is considered a behavioral problem and it’s one that can be difficult to resolve. In next week’s articles on, we’ll explore how to boost a submissive dog’s self-confidence, relieve anxiety and fear, and I’ll discuss how to resolve submissive urination and other problematic behaviors.

In the interim, visit PetLvr’s archives for tons of additional articles on pet care, training and more!

Photo Source: Diermet at</em>

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Mia Carter is a professional journalist and animal lover. Her furry family members include 6 dogs and 12 cats. She is also a feral cat colony caretaker. Carter specializes in pet training and special needs pet care. All of her animals have special needs such as paralysis, blindness, deafness and FIV, just to name a few. She also serves as a pet foster parent and she actively rehabilitates and rescues local strays and feral kittens.

  1. Pets-n-People Pet Care Advice
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    Good article. I once took on a pup that was extremely submissive and sensitive when he came to live with us. It took a lot of confidence-building to get him over it. This is not something I see posted about often, so it was interesting to read. You sound a little like me … my pets are all special needs as well (mostly physically) and I’ve recently taken over care of some cats that were abandoned when the owner moved away suddenly. Good luck with all of yours!

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