How to Train Your Dog to Stop Being Submissive

Hard
1-12 Months
Behavior

Introduction

You've been out for a couple of hours. Returning home, the dog is super-excited to see you but throws himself to the ground. As you reach out to stroke that delectable tummy, the dog urinates on the floor. 

Hygiene aspects aside, this isn't nice for the dog, especially as this behavior is likely to be submissive and a glimpse into the dog's state of anxiety. 

Indeed, a submissive dog is likely to spend a lot of his life feeling anxious or fearful. At best, this is unpleasant for the dog, and at worst it could lead to growling or biting if the dog feels sufficiently threatened to lash out. This is most commonly the case when a child doesn't understand that a dog rolled on their back isn't asking for a belly rub but is actually fearful. When that child then persists in stroking the dog, perhaps even a little roughly, the dog may be sufficiently anxious to bite. 

No-one wants a dog to be distressed, especially when the solution often lies in our own hands. 

Defining Tasks

Teaching a to stop being submissive is best done by building the dog's confidence. It's not possible to simply command a dog not to be submissive, instead, you must work on rewarding confident behavior. Once the dog learns that boldness is a good thing, then it becomes less likely he will need to show his submissive side. 

A common mistake made by many owners of submissive dogs is to coo over their pet pal when he rolls into a submissive position. Unfortunately, attention is a highly prized commodity to a dog and making a fuss only reinforces the dog's submissiveness. 

Instead, turn the problem on its head and ignore the dog when he shows anxiety, and praise him when he approaches you confidently. Then he will learn that boldness is a good thing and he doesn't need to be submissive. 

Getting Started

Most important when teaching a dog not to be submissive is an endless supply of time and patience. It is by building the dog's trust that the battle is won, and there is no fast-track option for doing this. 

It's also helpful to acquaint yourself with how to read dog body language so that you can recognize the subtle signs that indicate the dog is stressed or anxious. This will help you avoid accidentally rewarding submissive actions and build on the confident ones. 

To help the process you will need: 

  •  Treats
  • A treat bag you can wear on a belt, so that treats are to hand at all times
  • A rope tugger toy
  • A collar and leash, for attending agility classes
  • Understanding friends and visitors who are prepared to work with you and the dog

The Ignore the Behavior Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Understand the idea
Submitting is a dog's way of saying he poses no threat, but is fearful and wishes to be left alone. Approaching a dog showing submissive behavior can result in ramping up the dog's anxiety, such that he may then urinate (or even snap at an extended hand). Instead, it is best to ignore the dog when he shows submissive behavior and wait for him to approach you. Then you can reward this bolder, more confident action.
Step
2
Know when to ignore the dog
A typical flash point is when you return home after being out for a while. Excited, the dog runs over to greet you but rolls over submissively and then urinates. Have a think about when the dog exhibits this type of behavior, so that you can work on ignoring it (hence, not inadvertently rewarding the submissive action).
Step
3
Acknowledge the dog in a calm, low-key manner
When you arrive home, the aim is to keep the dog calm. Greet him briefly in a calm, quiet voice so that he knows he's been acknowledged.
Step
4
Do not approach the dog
Walking over to the dog has the potential to intimidate a submissive individual. Instead of approaching the dog, sit down on floor level and wait for him to come to you. Reward him by tossing a treat or softly praising bold behavior.
Step
5
Keep things calm
Praise and reward bold behavior and ignore submissive actions. Likewise, pet your dog under the chin or along his back, as these areas are less likely to make him feel threatened or insecure.
Recommend training method?

The Build Confidence Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Understand the idea
Dogs get into the habit of acting submissively, but equally, they can learn boldness when taught in a patient and sympathetic manner. This is done through a combination of rewarding bold actions, engaging in confidence-building games, and activities which grow the dog's self-confidence.
Step
2
Build confidence with visitors
Before visitors arrive, explain the dog is submissive and it's best to ignore him. Have the visitors act in a quiet, calm manner and don't respond if the dog rolls over.
Step
3
Reward the dog for approaching visitors
Give visitors a small supply of treats. While the guest ignores the dog, if he approaches, have the visitor toss a treat close to the dog in order to reward him. This teaches the dog that guests are a good thing and helps build his confidence.
Step
4
Play confidence-building games
Games such as tug are not only fun but help to build an anxious dog's confidence. Try shaking a tug-toy in front of the dog and encouraging him to take it. Pull on the other end of the toy, while making fun noises and praising the dog when he tugs back. Crucially, let the dog win, which bolsters confidence. (The opposite is true with a domineering dog. In this case you should teach the dog to release the toy to you.)
Step
5
Build self-confidence with activities
Fun activities such as agility classes can be a huge confidence booster to an anxious dog. He learns that he has the ability to tackle small or low obstacles and that doing so is fun. When he enjoys himself he forgets to be anxious and learns a new way of being.
Recommend training method?

The What NOT to Do Method

Effective
0 Votes
Step
1
Avoid staring directly at the dog
In dog language, staring directly is a challenge of authority and a potential act of aggression. This is guaranteed to make a submissive dog uncomfortable. Instead, if you need to watch the dog, do so from the corner of your eye.
Step
2
Avoid patting his head
When you pat a dog on the head, the dog can perceive this as a threat. Even happy, confident dogs may flinch when a hand is raised over their head. Avoid this in a submissive dog by rubbing his chin or stroking along his back.
Step
3
Never force a dog to face his fears
Never forcibly restrain the dog in order to have him face up to something he is fearful of. This is called "Flooding" and is extremely damaging to the dog. He may become so fearful that he freezes and is unable to respond. This gives the impression the dog has conquered his fear while the exact opposite is true and he is more fearful than ever.
Step
4
Avoid fussing the dog when he rolls over
If a submissive dog rolls over and you make a fuss of him, this inadvertently rewards him for showing submissive behavior. The dog then thinks this is the expected action when he sees you, which compounds the problem. Instead, ignore the dog and wait for him to come to you.
Step
5
Don't let guests reward fearful behavior
A mistake often made is to give guests treats, which they throw towards an anxious dog in order to attract him closer. If the dog is actively showing fear, there's a real risk the dog believes his fear is being rewarded and the behavior is reinforced. Instead, only reward the dog as he's moving toward the guest in a bold manner.
Recommend training method?

Success Stories and Training Questions

Training Questions and Answers

Question
Chloe
Siberian Husky
6 Months
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Question
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Chloe
Siberian Husky
6 Months

Any time my fiance trys to put her leash on and take her outside or tries to brush her she pees excessively. She use to do it any time he touched her. She doesnt any more but still in the other two cases and he is getting discouraged and frustrated.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hi Cassandra, Chloe might feel intimidated by the leash, brush, or your fiance reaching over to to access her collar. Reaching over a dog is a dominant act, and it's common for people to reach over their dogs to pet them or grab their collars. Being grabbed by the collar also feels a lot like being grabbed by the scruff of the neck to some puppies, so she might be acting submissive in response to what feels like a dominant action from him. Have him grab her as gently as possible and to reach under her chin instead of over her if he is not already. I would also advise him to work on getting her comfortable with the leash, brush, and being grabbed on the collar to build her confidence. Have him practice gently touching her collar with his hand, touching the leash to her, and touching the brush to her in different locations. Keep the touches very calm and minimal at first to prevent her from peeing, and gradually touch her more in those areas with those items as she improves. Very slowly up to brushing her on top of her head, on the back of the neck, and on her underbelly, since those are probably the hardest areas for her. Every time that he touches her with his hand, the leash, or brush while practicing with her, have him praise her in a calm and soft voice, and give her a treat. Giving her a treat every time that he touches her should help to build her confidence and remove some of the intimidation. Go slow at first, so that she does not pee even more when you do this. You also might want to start out by practicing this outside, in case she has any accidents during the training while learning. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Nanette
Brittany (Spaniel)
11 Months
1 found helpful
Question
1 found helpful
Nanette
Brittany (Spaniel)
11 Months

Everytime she meets up with other dogs she is too submissive and is always being barked at and chased without her doing nothing other than running away or rolling on ground. She never barks back so she isxalways bullied by other dogs, even smaller dogs than her and this is making our outings quite stressful.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Valentina, It sounds like Nanette is naturally very submissive. Since she is young, age is also part of the problem. To help build her confidence see if any of your friends have well socialized, friendly, easier going, more submissive dogs. Dogs that are more confident than Nanette but also submissive like her. Let her have a play date with one dog at a time. Whenever she becomes a little bit overwhelmed give the dogs a break and let them rest, then let her initiate the interaction again when she is ready. Moderate their play like you would with puppies. Be her advocate and set the rules for the interactions. Make sure that they are taking turns being on top and chasing during wrestling and chasing games, and giving each other breaks when one gets tired and is trying to take a break or get away, until both dogs show that they are ready to play again. As she plays with other, less pushy dogs, and learns how to interact with another dog properly, her confidence should grow. Age will also help with this if she continues to be around other dogs, as long as she is not being bullied. She should not be taken to the dog park when lots of dogs are there. She will just get bullied and the problem will get worse. If you go, only go when the dogs present are the type of dogs I described and the park is pretty empty. Bringing her to an obedience class, such as a CGC class, could help her get used to other dogs in a more structured setting. Praise her in a confident and excited tone of voice when she acts playful with another dog. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Truitt
Beagle/Lab Mix
4 Years
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Question
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Truitt
Beagle/Lab Mix
4 Years

My 4yr old dog is extremely submissive to people and other animals. Even in his own home. He’s afraid of loud sounds and always flips belly up when anyone sees him. He appears to be happy wagging his tail laying on his back and whining or shaking with what we thought was excitement but now realizing is his anxiety or fear. He never growls or snaps at us, rarely if he has a bone or something he knows he shouldn’t have like a sock or piece of cardboard and we try to take it from him, he’ll growl and give us a side eye and run away from us. But other than that, he will never lay a tooth on anyone or another dog, even if it’s being aggressive to or challenging him.

We just got a puppy. Very sweet, watchful, playful but ignores Truitt for the most part. Not in a weird way, but she’s just focused on other things and let’s him have his space. However, Truitt appears as though he feels like he can not enter a room the puppy is in or play in the same room the puppy is in. She has done nothing to him, sniffed him a couple times briefly in passing but has been really good about giving him space and not nipping at him at all.

I want Truitt to still feel comfortable in his own home and be brave enough to play with th puppy and be comfortable around her. If he has a toy and she comes anywhere near him, he will drop it and walk away. I want him to be able to be the boss in his house and not feel like he can’t have anything that is his own.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Haley, There are a couple of things that you can do to build Truitt's confidence. The first thing is, whenever the puppy enters the room where Truitt is and Truitt notices her, or whenever the puppy approaches Truitt, or you call the puppy over to yourself when you are petting Truitt, give Truitt several small, tasty treats, such as freeze dried meat or liver pieces. Try to sound excited to Truitt about the puppy's presence. Use an upbeat, confident, happy tone of voice and avoid speaking in a tone of voice that sounds like you feel sorry for him or are comforting him. The idea is to get him a little bit excited and to convey your own confidence to him. At the same time, continue to encourage calm behavior in the new puppy around Truitt. The second thing is to work on teaching Truitt obedience skills and other new training skills. Have a regular time every day most days where you teach Truitt obedience, tricks, or other mentally stimulating things and increase his focus in general, his respect for you, his success in life, and general bond with you. This should help his confidence in general. When he comes across almost anything that he is afraid of you can help him work through it by having him do obedience exercises in the same general area as the source of fear, with some distance between him and the fear source, and reward him heavily for obedience and calmness, and as he improves you can decrease the amount of distance between him and the item, letting him be the one to determine the pace. Always maintain a confident, upbeat attitude yourself while doing this with him. You can also reward him with treats and praise him in a happy tone of voice whenever he looks at something he finds scary and then looks to you for direction or remains calm. You can also place treats around a scary object and leave him alone to let him work up the courage to investigate and get the treats. Simply replace the treats that he eats, remain calm yourself, and praise him calmly and happily when he investigates. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Rogers
German Shepherd
17 Weeks
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Question
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Rogers
German Shepherd
17 Weeks

My 17 week old urinates at night when I call him to go to bed, or sometimes in the morning. Sometimes when I call him he doesn't move, he just stares at me. I call him a couples times, even in an upbeat mood, and he eventually comes but pees when he gets to me. It happens about every other day. Other than that, when we go outside he pulls on the leash and is constantly wanting to explore. When he sees other dogs, he gets super jumpy and barks at them to get their attention. When I tell him to calm down, he listens 9 times out of 10. Also, we have a 12 week old kitten, and he loves chasing her. She constantly attacks him and they wrestle a lot. But anytime I call him, he immediately stops and comes to me, no problems. He sits, lays down, comes to me, pees, poops, and stays on command. and he follows me EVERYWHERE, he is always at my hip. And he gets super excited whenever I get home and constantly wants to play, such as running with me, barking, or wrestling. I need him to be a service dog for my ptsd.. and I am really concerned he won't grow out of it. Especially since he is going to have to detect the stressful situation and diffuse it before I do something I regret and hurt someone else.... sorry if that's too much info

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Travis, In general it sounds like Rogers is doing very well and has a nice temperament. The submissive peeing is very normal for his age. The goal with submissive peeing is to prevent it as much as possible by managing his circumstances. Almost all dogs will grow out of it on their own by eighteen months of age if you can prevent them from developing a habit of it. To prevent him from peeing, attach a four to six-foot chew-proof leash or cord to him while you are at home to supervise him wearing it. VirChewLy and several other brands make chew-proof leashes that you can buy off of Amazon. They are made out of a thin flexible piece of wire covered with rubber. If he does not chew on leashes and you feel like he will leave it alone, then you can also purchase a normal check cord, which is a leash that does not have a handle and slides through the grass, and in your case carpet, well. When you need for him to come inside, go over to him and calmly pick up the end of the leash and start moving him toward his bed or outside. When he is doing better, then you can add a calm command if you want to, like "Let's Go". But when you say it, say it in a calm, pleasant tone of voice and not an angry or excited tone of voice. Do not grab the leash and wait for him to think about what's happening, simply pick up the leash and start walking in the direction that you want him to go, so that he will not have time to do anything else. It sounds like you already know this, but when you are dealing with submissive or excited peeing, try to ignore the dog for five minutes when you first get home or let him out of the crate, to let him calm down. An exception to this is if he needs to pee right away, in which case you can open the crate door and then begin walking toward the door to go outside while he follows you, without touching or talking to him. If he can hold it for five more minutes, then when you walk into the room and he is excited, wait five minutes to let him calm down, before letting him out of the crate. In general avoid touching a nervous or excited dog until he relaxes a bit. Do not lean over a dog who is about to pee. Do not reach toward him or raise your voice or act really excited if he is about to pee. Pay attention to when he normally has accidents when you interact with him. During those times, try to keep those interactions as plain and boring and peaceful as possible. Using a leash that has been attached to him ahead of time will make it possible for you to interact with your dog when he is struggling not to pee, without having to touch him, reach toward him, or lean over him. You do not have to interact with him on the leash or without touching him all of the time. Doing things such as practicing "Come" on a long leash with lots of excitement while outside are great. Touching him in general, when he is not as likely to pee, also very important. Simply avoid the excitement and touch and other triggers when he is likely to pee. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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Question
Junie
Labrador Retriever
3 Years
0 found helpful
Question
0 found helpful
Junie
Labrador Retriever
3 Years

Submissive. Will not defend against another dog, and is jumpy if something falls or moves quickly. But has learned many tricks. Handles well otherwise. Is not aggressive . Loves everyone. But will not growl or deal with threats.. lays down.

Caitlin Crittenden
Caitlin Crittenden
Dog Trainer
112 Dog owners recommended

Hello Anna, Junie is likely more submissive by nature. When he is being bullied by other dogs, you need to defend her. Take charge, and tell the other dogs "Out" and firmly walk toward them until they leave the area. If they come right back, then repeat until they give up. Encourage your dog in an up beat, confident tone of voice when another dog approaches and she starts to get overly submissive. The tone of voice is important. You want to sound proud, happy, and very confident yourself. You do not want to sound frustrated or sympathetic or worried, but happy and up beat. When she feels like she can trust you to defend her and feeds off of your up beat energy that should help her with her own confidence. Practicing regular obedience training is also good for building confidence. She will likely always be a bit submissive and more skittish naturally. That can be a genetic trait but work on supporting her and building her trust for you so that she will look to you for help and not become overly afraid. Best of luck training, Caitlin Crittenden

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