Why Is My Dog Submissive

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Imagine coming home from work and being greeted by your furry friend lowering its head, rolling on its back, or displaying other signs of submissiveness. You might wonder, “Why is my dog submissive?” Understanding this behavior is crucial for pet owners as it provides insights into your canine’s emotions and overall well-being. Submissive behavior in dogs can stem from various factors, including their upbringing, social interactions, and environment.

Why Is My Dog Submissive

This article will delve into the reasons behind dog submissiveness, how to distinguish between healthy and concerning submissive behaviors and practical advice on fostering a confident and well-adjusted pet. By understanding the nuances of why your dog might be submissive, you can create a more harmonious and supportive home for your loyal companion.

Decoding Dog Language: Common Submissive Behaviors

Body Language


One of the most apparent indicators of submissiveness in dogs is their posture. When a dog lowers its head, it typically signifies submission or appeasement. A lowered head often means the dog is trying to avoid confrontation or communicate that it poses no threat. Similarly, a tucked tail is a strong signal of submission. A dog may tuck its tail tightly between its legs to convey fear or insecurity, signaling that it’s seeking reassurance. Another clear sign of submission is when a dog rolls over to expose its belly. This vulnerable position is an ultimate display of trust and submission, often accompanied by other submissive signals such as avoiding eye contact or licking the lips.

Facial Expressions

Facial expressions play a crucial role in canine communication, particularly in signaling submission. Flattened ears are a common phenomenon; when a dog pins its ears back against its head, it often indicates fear or submission. This action reduces the dog’s profile, making it appear less threatening. Another facial cue is an averted gaze. Direct eye contact can be perceived as a challenge in the animal kingdom, so a submissive dog may look away to avoid any confrontational signals. Additionally, a relaxed mouth, where the tension around the lips and jaw is visibly reduced, can also indicate that the dog is trying to show it means no harm.


The way a dog moves can provide significant insight into their emotional state and submissive behavior. Slow, hesitant movements are often a sign that a dog is trying to appease or show submission. They might move cautiously to avoid drawing attention to themselves or to prevent escalating a situation. Cowering is another pronounced sign of submission and usually occurs when the dog is overwhelmed or frightened. A cowering dog may make itself appear small by lowering its body close to the ground, coupled with other submissive signals such as lowered head and tucked tail. These movements help in communicating a non-threatening demeanor.


Submissive dogs may also express their emotional state through vocalizations. Whining, whimpering, or yelping are common sounds that indicate submission. These vocalizations are often a dog’s way of seeking comfort or trying to diffuse a tense situation. For example, a dog that whines or whimpers may be trying to show that it is not a threat and is seeking appeasement or reassurance.

Other Signs

In some cases, extreme submissiveness or fear can lead to involuntary urination or defecation. This is often seen when a dog feels overly threatened or stressed. Submissive urination typically happens in puppyhood but can also be observed in adult dogs that are particularly timid or have experienced past trauma. This behavior is a clear indication that the dog feels powerless and is trying to communicate its submission in the most obvious terms.

By recognizing and understanding these signs of submissiveness in your dog, you can better address their emotional needs and create a nurturing environment that boosts their confidence and sense of security.

Why Is My Dog Submissive

Exploring the Reasons of Yours: “Why Is My Dog Submissive”

Natural Communication

Submissive behavior is a natural way for dogs to avoid conflict and establish social hierarchy within packs. In the wild, dogs are pack animals with a complex social structure where each member knows their place within the hierarchy. Submissive behaviors serve as important communication tools to maintain harmony and prevent unnecessary fights or confrontations. By displaying signs of submission, such as lowering their head, tucking their tail, or avoiding eye contact, dogs signal to more dominant members that they are not a threat. This helps to de-escalate potential conflicts and ensures a peaceful coexistence within the pack.

In a domestic setting, your dog’s submissive behavior towards you or other pets in the household can be seen as an extension of this natural instinct. It can indicate that your dog acknowledges your role as the leader or simply wishes to avoid any perceived threat or punishment. Understanding this behavior allows pet owners to respond appropriately, reinforcing positive and confident interactions rather than unintentionally encouraging fear or anxiety. By creating a supportive environment that respects your dog’s natural communication methods, you can help them feel more secure and assured within their social structure, leading to a happier and balanced pet.

Respect and Deference

Submissive behavior in dogs can often be interpreted as a form of respect and recognition of your leadership within their social structure. When your dog exhibits behaviors such as lowering their head, avoiding eye contact, or rolling over to expose their belly, they are not only showing deference but also communicating their acknowledgment of your status as the leader. This form of respect is deeply rooted in their instincts as pack animals. Within a pack, clear hierarchies exist to ensure harmony and cooperation, and submissive behaviors are crucial in maintaining these dynamics.

In a domestic setting, these behaviors imply that your dog views you as the alpha or a more dominant figure, trusting you to provide guidance and protection. It’s important to recognize this submissiveness as a sign of trust rather than fear. By consistently displaying firm but gentle leadership, you can strengthen this bond of respect. Positive reinforcement, regular training sessions, and a supportive environment will further establish your role as a leader while encouraging your dog to feel secure and confident. Ensuring your dog feels understood and safe will not only enhance their well-being but also foster a more harmonious relationship between you and your loyal companion.

Fear and Anxiety

Fear and anxiety are significant triggers for submissive behavior in dogs. When a dog is afraid of punishment, unfamiliar situations, or interactions with other dogs, it may exhibit signs of submission to avoid potential threats or conflict. For instance, if a dog has previously experienced harsh discipline, it might become overly submissive whenever it senses disapproval from its owner. This fear-induced behavior is the dog’s way of trying to appease and prevent punishment.

Unfamiliar environments or situations can also cause a dog to act submissively. New locations, strangers, or unexpected noises can be overwhelming and intimidating, prompting the dog to display submissive signals such as cowering, tucked tails, or avoiding eye contact. These behaviors are meant to convey that the dog is not a threat and is seeking safety and reassurance.

Additionally, encounters with other dogs can trigger submissive behavior, especially if the other dog is perceived as more dominant. The submissive dog may lower its body, flatten its ears, or show its belly to communicate that it doesn’t want to challenge the other dog. Understanding these triggers and addressing the underlying fear and anxiety can help in reducing submissive behavior and promoting a more confident and secure dog. Providing a stable, nurturing environment and using positive reinforcement can significantly aid in alleviating these fears.

Why Is My Dog Submissive

When is Submissive Behavior Normal?


Submissive behavior is quite common in puppies as they navigate their social structures and learn about their environment. During this formative period, puppies will naturally exhibit submission towards their littermates and humans as a means of understanding their place within the hierarchy. This behavior is a crucial learning mechanism that helps young dogs develop social skills and grow into well-adjusted adults.

Interaction with New Dogs

When dogs meet for the first time, it is normal for one or both to display submissive behaviors such as lowered heads, tucked tails, or rolling over to expose their bellies. These gestures are part of a dog’s natural communication toolkit for de-escalating potential conflicts and establishing social positions. Such behaviors ensure that introductions proceed smoothly and that both dogs can coexist peacefully.

Daily Social Interactions

In day-to-day interactions, submissive behaviors are often displayed between dogs to maintain harmony and prevent aggression. For instance, when playing or greeting each other, dogs might show brief signs of submission to signal that they mean no harm. This is a part of healthy social interaction and signifies mutual respect and understanding within the canine community.

Response to Training

Submissive behavior can also be observed during training sessions. Dogs might exhibit signs of submission as a response to their owners’ cues and commands. This is generally an indication that the dog is attentive, willing to comply, and recognizes the authority of the owner. It is important, however, to use positive reinforcement to encourage enthusiastic participation rather than fear-based compliance.

Context of Bonding and Trust

Submissive behaviors in dogs often emerge in contexts where the dog feels safe and trusts the people or animals around them. For example, a dog that rolls over to expose its belly for a rub is demonstrating vulnerability and trust. This behavior is an indication of the dog’s comfort and affection, affirming the strong bond between the dog and its owner.

When is Submissive Behavior Abnormal?

Understanding when submissive behavior in dogs exceeds the bounds of normalcy is crucial for their well-being. While displaying some level of submission is a natural aspect of canine communication, excessive or inappropriate submissiveness may signal underlying issues that require attention.

Excessive Submissiveness

Excessive submissiveness is characterized by more intense or frequent submissive behaviors than what is typically observed. This heightened level of submission can manifest through persistent tail tucking, excessive urination, or constant avoidance of eye contact. When these behaviors occur regularly and interfere with the dog’s ability to engage in normal activities, it may indicate an imbalance in their emotional state.

One common trigger for excessive submissiveness is a history of negative experiences or trauma. Dogs that have been rescued from abusive situations or have faced severe punishment in the past may be more prone to exhibiting abnormal levels of submission. These dogs live in a heightened state of anxiety, always anticipating potential threats, which leads to overt submissive behaviors as a coping mechanism.

Why Is My Dog Submissive

Indicators of Stress and Anxiety

Abnormal submissive behavior often goes hand in hand with signs of stress and anxiety. Dogs experiencing abnormal levels of submission may show signs such as pacing, excessive panting, drooling, or destructive behavior. These stress indicators suggest that the dog is not merely being respectful or deferential but is experiencing significant emotional discomfort.

Frequent whining or barking, especially in response to minor triggers, can also be a telltale sign. This vocalization is not only a method to seek reassurance but also an outward manifestation of internal distress. Stressful environments, lack of socialization, and instability in the dog’s daily life can exacerbate these feelings of anxiety, making the dog more submissive than usual.

Impact on Quality of Life

When submissive behavior becomes abnormal, it detrimentally affects the dog’s quality of life. Dogs that are overly submissive may miss out on important social interactions, exercise, and engaging activities that are essential for their mental and physical health. They may isolate themselves or recoil from human contact, leading to a solitary and constrained existence.

Furthermore, the constant state of anxiety can have long-term health implications. Chronic stress can weaken the immune system, making the dog more susceptible to illnesses. It can also contribute to the development of behavioral issues such as aggression or depression, complicating the overall approach required for rehabilitation.

Addressing Abnormal Submissiveness

Addressing abnormal submissive behavior involves a multifaceted approach combining environmental modifications, positive reinforcement, and sometimes professional intervention. Creating a stable and predictable environment can significantly reduce a dog’s anxiety. Consistent routines and a calm household help the dog feel secure and less threatened by sudden changes.

Positive reinforcement techniques are essential in promoting confident behavior. Rewarding the dog for exhibiting behaviors that demonstrate confidence, such as making eye contact or approaching new objects, encourages them to break free from a cycle of submissiveness. Training sessions should be short, engaging, and devoid of any form of punishment.

When dealing with extreme cases of submissiveness, seeking assistance from a professional dog trainer or a veterinary behaviorist might be necessary. These experts can help devise a customized intervention plan, addressing the specific triggers and behaviors exhibited by the dog. In some cases, medication may be prescribed to help manage extreme anxiety and facilitate the training process.

Submissive behavior in dogs is a natural trait, but it becomes a cause for concern when exhibited excessively or inappropriately. Recognizing the signs of abnormal submissiveness—such as persistent stress indicators, impact on quality of life, and the dog’s history—is essential for timely intervention. By fostering a supportive environment and using positive reinforcement, pet owners can help their dogs overcome excessive submissiveness and lead a more balanced, confident life.

Building Confidence in a Submissive Dog

Helping a submissive dog build confidence involves a comprehensive approach focused on positive reinforcement training, socialization, and creating a safe environment. These strategies not only reduce reliance on submissive behavior but also empower the dog to exhibit more balanced and confident behavior.

Positive Reinforcement Training

Positive reinforcement training is a reward-based method that can effectively build a dog’s confidence. By rewarding desirable behaviors with treats, praise, or play, owners can encourage their dogs to move away from submissive responses. For instance, when a dog makes eye contact or approaches a new object, providing immediate rewards helps reinforce these confident actions. This type of training should be consistent and enjoyable for the dog, focusing on short, engaging sessions to prevent overwhelming them. Avoidance of any form of punishment is crucial, as negative reinforcement can exacerbate submissive tendencies and undermine the dog’s confidence. Through patient and consistent application of positive reinforcement, dogs can gradually learn to respond more confidently to various stimuli.


Proper socialization from a young age is fundamental in helping dogs feel comfortable in multiple environments and situations. Introducing puppies to diverse experiences—such as meeting new people, encountering different animals, and exploring varied settings—can substantially diminish fear and submissiveness. Socialization should be done gradually and positively, allowing the dog to acclimate at their own pace. For older dogs that may have not been adequately socialized, gradual exposure to new experiences paired with positive reinforcement can still be beneficial. Regularly practicing socialization helps build resilience and social confidence, reducing the likelihood of submissive behavior in unfamiliar circumstances.

Why Is My Dog Submissive

Creating a Safe and Trusting Environment

Establishing a calm and predictable home environment is essential for reducing a dog’s anxiety and submissive behavior. A stable routine provides structure, helping the dog understand what to expect and feel more secure. Elements such as consistent feeding times, regular walks, and a designated safe space where the dog can retreat to when feeling overwhelmed are important. Ensuring that the household remains relatively calm and free of chaotic changes supports a sense of stability. Additionally, maintaining positive and gentle interactions with the dog fosters trust and reliability. With a solid foundation of trust, dogs are more likely to step out of their submissive comfort zones and explore new behaviors with confidence.

By focusing on positive reinforcement training, proper socialization, and creating a safe and trusting environment, owners can significantly aid their submissive dogs in building confidence and reducing excessive submissive behaviors. These efforts lead to a healthier, more balanced life for the dog, promoting well-being and happiness for both the pet and owner.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q: What Does It Mean when My Dog Shows Submissive Behavior?

A: Submissive behavior in dogs can include actions like cowering, lowering their body, tucking their tail, avoiding eye contact, and sometimes even urinating when they feel nervous. This behavior is a way for dogs to show they are not a threat and to avoid confrontation.

Q: Why Is My Dog Submissive Towards Me?

A: Your dog might be submissive towards you because they see you as the leader or dominant figure in the household. It can also be a sign of respect and trust, indicating that they feel safe and are acknowledging your authority.

Q: Can Submissive Behavior Be a Result of Fear or Anxiety?

A: Yes, submissive behavior can often stem from fear or anxiety. If a dog has had negative experiences in the past, especially involving punishment or aggressive encounters, they may become submissive as a way to protect themselves.

Q: Is Submissive Behavior in Dogs a Sign of A Problem?

A: Not necessarily. While submissive behavior is a natural part of canine communication, if it is excessive or if it seems to be driven by fear, it might indicate a problem that needs to be addressed. A balanced level of submission is normal, but extreme submissiveness may require intervention.

Q: How Can I Help My Dog Feel More Confident?

A: Building your dog’s confidence involves positive reinforcement, socialization, and creating a safe environment. Reward your dog for confident behavior, expose them gradually to new experiences, and avoid situations that trigger fear. Training classes and interactive play can also help boost their confidence.

Q: Why Is My Dog Submissive Around Other Dogs?

A: Dogs may display submissive behavior around other dogs to show that they are not a threat and to avoid conflict. This is a normal social behavior in the canine world, helping to establish a peaceful hierarchy among dogs.

Q: Can Training Help Reduce My Dog’s Submissive Behavior?

A: Yes, training can help reduce excessive submissive behavior. Positive reinforcement techniques that encourage confident behavior and avoid punishment are effective. Consistent, patient training can help your dog build trust and feel more secure.


Understanding and addressing the question “Why is my dog submissive” requires a comprehensive approach that involves recognizing signs, modifying the environment, and applying positive reinforcement techniques. Submissive behavior in dogs, while natural in some contexts, can become problematic if it is excessive or inappropriate.

Identifying the root causes of such behavior, whether they stem from trauma, lack of socialization, or an unstable environment, is critical for effective intervention. By fostering a supportive and consistent environment, promoting confidence through structured interactions, and seeking professional help when necessary, pet owners can help their dogs overcome abnormal submissiveness.

Ultimately, these efforts lead to a more balanced, confident, and healthy life for the dog, fostering a deeper bond and mutual understanding between the pet and the owner.

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