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How to Help Your Overly Submissive Dog

 by jaime on 10 Aug 2014 |
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The key to any good owner-dog relationship rests in the hierarchy of the family pack. Dogs are pack animals and rely upon the guidance of an alpha dog to lead the group. In the absence of a dominant character, your dog may assume this mantle and become aggressive. On the other end of the spectrum, dogs that become too submissive may fall in line and listen, but do so at the cost of emotional health.
Is your dog overly submissive? What are the warning signs you can look for, and more importantly, how can you help your submissive dog regain some confidence? The following tips will help you restore balance in your submissive dog's life and create better emotional stability.
Causes of submissive behavior
There are numerous factors that can lead your dog to become too submissive. It could be a situational trigger that leads to submission, or it could be an item or individual. Fear of strangers is a common problem in submissive dogs. This is more common, but not unique to, smaller dog breeds. These breeds are naturally shy compared to other breeds, and that shyness can turn to submission with little effort.
Interactions with overly aggressive animals or individuals can also create an extreme state of submission in your dog. Events that trigger this kind of submission include aggressive behavior (growling, showing teeth, etc.) from other dogs or aggressive verbal tones from humans. Physical and verbal abuse from humans can also trigger submission in dogs.
Age is another factor in submissive behavior. As dog's age, they are not able to react as quickly to situations. This can lead to a reflex behavior of submission in an attempt to display a nonaggressive attitude.
Signs of an overly submissive dog
There are a number of common signs that show a dog has become too submissive. Many of these signs are noticeable in dogs that are submissive, regardless of the root cause. Whether a dog fears a certain situation or has a fear of people because of physical abuse in its past, the warning signs are the same.
Common warning signs of an overly submissive dog include, but are not limited to, the following:
  • Hiding: An overly submissive dog may choose to hide when faced with a frightening situation. Examples of this include hiding behind you when meeting a new dog, or hiding under furniture in the home when strangers enter the house.
  • Wetting: A common reaction in many submissive dogs is a loss of bladder control. The fear elicited from a certain situation may lead the dog to lose control of its bladder spontaneously. Additionally, when a situation creates fear in a dog it may urinate somewhere it believes it can hide the deed. This action in itself is an attempt to hide the behavior for fear of retaliation for urinating in the home.
  • Body language: Another easily spotted key is body language. Dogs that become too submissive will lower their heads, put their tail between their legs, and/or lie down and try to bury their head as low as possible.
Preventing & coping with submissive behavior
The type of submissive behavior your dog exhibits, and the specific triggers that result in that submission, will determine the course of action you should take to help them cope. For example, a dog with a fear of certain places or situations needs a reward-based approach to cope. Slowly allow your dog to adjust to a new or fearful place by playing with it in that space, offering rewards for good behavior and a playful attitude.
Create personal space in your home to offer your dog a place to call its own. This personal space can serve as a coping mechanism as your dog adjusts to its fears. While it is free to venture out and test the waters around new individuals or other animals, it will know it has its own place in the home to retreat to for relaxation or quiet.
Most importantly, always work to socialize your dog with other animals and people from a young age. The more time your dog spends around others, the more likely it is that it will not develop fears in the first place.
Preventing fear and submission in dogs relies on trust and confidence. Take time each day to help your dog adjust to new surroundings, conquer fears, and play with others. This will build trust between you and your pet, and will provide it with the confidence to tackle situations and places that once created a sense of fear.

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