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Dog Psychology - How To Understand Your Dog


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The Submissive Dog

The submissive dog, like the fearful dog, will try to appear smaller, but will rarely raise his hackles. The submissive dog will either scoot along the ground in a sit position to get closer to the dominant entity or roll over on the ground to expose his belly and genitals, displaying vulnerability to the aggressor. The dog may even urinate during this display.

The head of a submissive dog is held in a tipped position and his tongue will dart in and out as he tries very hard to get close to lick the dominant entity's mouth and face area for appeasement. The same licking gesture is observed when a pup approaches his dam.

A submissive dog will also lean on the dominant creature, probably as a defense from attack. If the submissive animal leans on the dominant animal, the aggressor has difficulty reaching crucial body parts during an attack.

A good analogy to this concept may be the technique used to avoid injury when a horse kicks. The person who steps closer as the horse kicks will usually suffer less bodily damage than the person who is farther away and receives the full force of the strike. The submissive dog will not initiate eye contact and tries very hard to avoid any visual contact. He will even go so far as to turn his head to avoid meeting the eyes of an opponent.

Do not mistake the head turning as inattention to the body language of the dominant adversary, however. The submissive dog always watches body language to determine protocol in each social situation.

The submissive dog will expose his teeth in what can be mistakenly interpreted as snarling. The difference between a submissive show of teeth and an aggressive one is the position of the head and the absence of growling. The submissive dog approaches with teeth exposed and head in a lowered, tipped position.

The display of teeth in the submissive dog has been termed smiling, and as a rule, the submissive dog does not growl or make any aggressive sounds when approaching.

Behaviorists speculate that the submissive animal exposes his teeth to display his strength or lack thereof. The theory suggests that an adversary gains a serious advantage in battle if the opponent reveals his defensive strength; therefore, the submissive dog is attempting to ward off an attack by showing the perceived adversary the lack of threat by revealing the size of his teeth.

In addition, the posture of his head and body, along with the showing of teeth, communicates the infantile greeting gesture. The body language of a submissive dog does not always ward off attack.

Fearful, aggressive, and submissive behaviors can sometimes be confused. The dog owner must make a distinction between these emotions to properly interact with the dog. Should you mistake submissive behavior for aggression and correct the dog, the submissive behavior will only become more intense.

Distinguishing between these behaviors may be quite difficult. Not all submissive dogs will display the entire array of classical submissive behaviors.


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