Why Do Dogs Show Submissive Behavior

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Dogs show submissive behaviors in a lot of ways such as lowering their head, showing their belly, putting their tail between the legs or avoiding eye contact. Some dogs even pee on greeting you as an act of submission. But why is there this hierarchy of dominant and submissive dogs? Why do so many dogs show submissive behaviors? It’s weird to say this but dogs get a sense of security knowing their rank. This behavior may just be from instincts and ancestral traits. To better understand why your dog has these submissive traits we must first look at the root cause of these behaviors.

The Root of the Behavior

Submissiveness is an instinctual behavior that goes back to how dogs are pack animals and their wolf ancestry. There is always an alpha dog or the leader of the pack. There is also the lowest ranking dog and everything in between. When a dog is submitting to you, it is a sign of respect and also means that he trusts you and respects you. This does not mean that he will not defend you and be a good watchdog. It just means that your dog knows you are the leader and he trusts that you will take care of him and offer him protection as well. Some dogs also show submissive behavior when they feel threatened or are scared. This can be triggered by many things such as other aggressive dogs, lightning storms, or even being abused.

You can tell if your dog is a submissive dog if he is calm and not aggressive. He will show you signs like lying down, lowering his gaze, making his body look smaller, hiding, licking another dog's chin, or moving his ears back. Most of the time this behavior is perfectly normal. However, if your dog is overly submissive and fearful, you might want him to be able to exert his dominance a little better. Keep in mind if you have more than one dog, one will take the role as the alpha dog and the other will be the beta dog. They won’t see themselves as equals. One will always be more submissive than the other. Submissive behavior in a dog is a natural response and you should not feel as if they fear you. There are ways to help your dog be more dominant if you feel that they are overly submissive. If your dog has anxiety issues that also might make him seem timid, scared, or overly submissive, you can bring up these concerns with your vet.

Encouraging the Behavior

If your dog is overly submissive, there are several things you can do to get him to open up and show a little more dominance. First of all, you should socialize your dogs as much as possible. Let him meet other dogs at dog parks or within your neighborhood. You may have to take this a little slow if he is overly fearsome. Never push your dog into meeting other dogs. In your home, create a space that is your dog's personal space. This could be a bed in the corner, a cage with a bed, or whatever area he can retreat to when he is overstimulated or needs space. Let this be a place that feels safe to your dog. Let your dog slowly adjust to any new areas, new people, or new dogs. Over time your dog will show a bit more dominance and less fear of things. Always positively praise your dog and reward him for overcoming things. If you feel your dog was abused before you owned him, you may want to consult a professional to help him overcome some of that fear that was instilled in him. Talk to your vet and see if they have any recommendations for you.

Other Solutions and Considerations

Submissive urination is when your dog walks up to greet you, then pees on your shoes. This is a habit you will most likely not enjoy. In order to remedy this, you have to build your dog's confidence. Play lots of games with him and reward him with praise. When you get home, pet your dog under his chin right away or rub his back. This will let him feel some dominance and may help stop the urinating. Also, try to not overexcite your dog when you get home. Instead, you should come in quietly and talk to him in a calm tone.


Hierarchy systems have been going on in the wild for as long as there have been wild animals. Your dog’s submissiveness is most likely due to his respect for you. Follow the training advice above in order to let your dog assert himself a little bit more. Don’t worry, he will still know you are the pack leader.