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Submissive Behaviour: A Sign Of Weakness… Or Confidence?

By listendogtraining, Apr 8 2016 02:49PM

When it comes to recognising fear in a dog’s posture, the signs are unmistakable; the dog will cower and shrink, attempting to make itself as small and seemingly insignificant as possible. Since insecurity and fear are linked emotions, it would make sense to follow the standard presumption that the dog who displays shrinking, submissive behaviour is actually the insecure dog, as opposed to the dog who is displaying dominant physical behaviour, whereby the dog attempts to make itself appear as large as possible.

Some people argue to the contrary however, that the dog who attempts to make himself as large as possible, is in fact doing so as a result of his own insecurity; and is behaving thusly not because he is dominant, but because he feels concerned, anxious or worried… i.e – completely lacking in confidence about the situation he has found himself in.

In her Article, ‘Understanding How dogs Communicate With Each Other’ Pat Miller describes the studies of Turid Rugaas, a Norwegian dog trainer who collectively referred to submissive or appeasing gestures as ‘calming signals’. Rugaas described these gestures as demonstrating the dog’s intent to get along with other pack members – which could be argued to contradict the beliefs of some others, who would suggest that these gestures are an instinctual response of fear or anxiety in the presence of a more dominant dog (or person!) Rugaas implies that these behaviours are in fact deliberate, and decided upon as the best course of action by a confident dog whose motivation is keeping the peace – and ultimately, self-preservation.

Pat Miller goes on to sub-divide appeasing gestures further into: active submission and passive submission, with active submission being recognised by an increase in activity alongside a diminished posture, whilst passive submission is displayed by decreased activity and a lowered posture. With active submission, it is suggested that the ‘submissive dog’ actually wants attention from the individual he/she is interacting with, whereas the main goal of a dog displaying passive submission is to divert attention from himself entirely.

So if it is taken into consideration that there may be two types of submissive reactions, it could be argued that one IS born out of fear/insecurity (passive submission – the dog is concerned at what this social interaction might lead to, or feels unable to deal with situation at all, so attempts to avoid it entirely), whilst the other is displayed by the more CONFIDENT dog, who is simply happy to appease (active submission – the dog wants to make it blindingly obvious to the dog they are communicating with that they pose absolutely no threat, and are not looking for a fight, and are happy to be direct in their communication of this).

So perhaps it might just be the case that some dogs behaving submissively are not doing it due to their own insecurity at all, but simply because they know it to be the best way to have a socially pleasant encounter, and are happy to play the peacemaker.

Never judge a book by its cover!

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