Common Signs of Submissive Dog Behavior

When dogs face confrontation or feel scared, they use body language to communicate that they are not a threat. This display of body language is referred to as submissive behavior. It’s not always easy for pet owners to interpret signs of submission in dogs. Do you think your pup may be exhibiting submissive behaviors? This helpful guide will give you a better understanding of the most common signs of submissive dog behavior.

Common Submissive Dog Signs

Submissive canine temperament can be confirmed through a variety of signs. The following are some of the most common indications of submissive behavior in dogs. A submissive canine may exhibit all the signs, while some may show just a few. Breeds known to be the most submissive include Basset Hounds, Beagles, Golden Retrievers, and Irish Setters.

Submissive dogs tend to:

  • Urinate when they greet someone
  • Roll onto their side or back
  • Hold their ears flat
  • Tuck their tail between their legs
  • Grin submissively
  • Avoid eye contact or break eye contact first
  • Cower in the presence of humans
  • Avoid people and animals
  • Prefer solidarity
  • Lower their heads
  • Shake in fear
  • Keep their eyes partly closed
  • Allow other dogs to paw their shoulders
  • Whine or squeal when they are afraid
  • Crouch low to the ground

Submission is not necessarily a problem up to a certain point. Dogs are pack animals and should be trained to follow the lead of their owners. However, excessive submission can become a problem in dogs.

Urinating When Greeting Someone

If your dog urinates every time you or a guest enters your home, this is a common sign of submission. Some canines may also roll over onto their backs and pee when they encounter someone, and some will urinate a small amount every time they are touched. This is your dog’s way of showing you that he is not a threat and that he is surrendering to your authority. It’s not uncommon for puppies to urinate when they are excited when they greet someone, but most will outgrow it. However, some adult dogs who are submissive will continue to urinate when they come into contact with people or other animals even after they are house trained. Frequent urination could be a symptom of a medical condition, so it’s crucial to inform your vet before jumping to conclusions about submissive behaviors.

Rolling Over or Lying Belly Up

Rolling over and lying down belly up is a common sign of submission in dogs. However, the behavior alone doesn’t necessarily imply your pup is submissive. Many canines love belly rubs and will roll onto their backs as a way to show their owners what they want. A submissive canine will often roll over when someone is standing over them or when they feel vulnerable. A display of the underbelly can be an instinctual message dogs use to avoid confrontation from dominant people or animals.

Flattening or Holding Ears Back

A relaxed dog will usually display upright ears. If you notice your pet flattens or holds his ears back in your presence, it may be a sign of submission, stress, or fear. This sign of submissive dog behavior can be hard to detect with floppy-eared pups. Upright or erect ears can also indicate that a dog is alert and attentive to their surroundings, so the rest of their body language should also be taken into account.

Tucking In or Lowering Tail

Dogs who frequently lower or tuck their tails between their legs are most likely exhibiting a sign of submission. Anxious or shy dogs will keep their tails tucked more closely to their bodies. If you notice that your pup is wagging his tail low to the ground, it’s not necessarily a sign that he is excited to see you. A lowered tail, even when wagging, could be a sign of canine anxiety or submissiveness.

Submissive Grinning

If your dog greets people at the door with a big, open smile, this could be a way to let guests know he is not a threat. Submissive grinning may also be accompanied by a lowered posture, tucked-in tail, or avoidance of eye contact. However, if this toothy grin is accompanied by a snarl and stiffened posture, this is a sign of aggression. It’s important to never approach a snarling dog.

Avoiding Direct Eye Contact

For some dogs, eye contact may be perceived as a threat. When your pooch breaks eye contact or turns their head away when faced with people or other animals, it most likely means they are trying to avoid eye contact to refrain from confrontation. Avoiding eye contact is a common sign of submissive dog behavior.  

Other Common Signs of Submission in Dogs

Some submissive pups will keep their eyes partly closed when they are around other canines or people. This should not be confused with sleepiness which should only be exhibited before a dog’s bedtime. Another common sign of submissive canine behavior is allowing another dog to place a paw or mouth on his shoulder. The dog that paws or mouths your pet’s shoulder is displaying dominance. Submissive dogs also tend to whine or squeal when they feel threatened or suffer from canine pain. Additionally, it’s common for dogs to show submissive behavior by cowering or crouching low to the ground.

What Causes Submissive Dog Behavior?

Dogs exhibit signs of submissive behavior when they are in situations that make them feel afraid or threatened. Some canines have a fear of strangers and will be docile around people or animals they don’t know. Smaller breeds are typically shyer around strangers and may shake around people they are not familiar with. When aggressive dogs show their dominance by growling, barking, or displaying their teeth, a submissive canine will likely run away or avoid eye contact with the alpha.

Other pups are afraid of getting in trouble or being punished by their owners. When dogs hear their owners or people around them use a certain tone that scares them, they might cower, tuck their tail between their legs, or begin to whimper.

Adopted dogs that were physically or verbally abused by previous owners may become submissive and remain that way throughout their lives. If this is the case, a dog will shy away from most people and animals and become attached to a single person they feel secure around.

Older dogs also tend to show more signs of submission than younger pups. Since they aren’t able to move or react as quickly as they used to, they can feel threatened in certain situations. Older submissive canines will sometimes shake or urinate when they are fe