Submissive dogs employ two appeasement strategies to quell aggressor

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Submissive dog body language

Submissive dogs employ two similar appeasement strategies to quell a dominant dog’s aggressive behavior towards them. The first stategy dampens the aggressive mood of the hostile, dominant dog. They achieve this by adopting the behavioural characteristics of a juvenile dog. They adopt a posture which is opposite to the aggressors hostile display. This nullifies agressive mood.

The second appeasement strategy subdues the aggressor’s hostility. The submissive dog does this by behaving like a puppy because adult dogs become inhibited when aggressive towards and attacking a puppy.

Submissive dog body language

Submissive dog body language. Photo in public domain.

Appeasement behaviour takes two forms: passive and active submission. In the former, the submissive dog crouches low to look as small as possible. If this fails he will roll over onto his back with his paws held limply in the air. He may even emit a small jet of urine which is what very young puppies do when their mother approaches to lick them to stimulate urination. This posture is about as infantile and as subordinate as is possible to be so it is usually successful in dissipating the hostility.

Active submission refers to a juvenile food-begging posture. The subordinate dog crouches low to the level of a puppy and raises his head up towards the dominant animal’s mouth and nuzzles it. This is a reflection of what happens when puppies are about a month old and start begging for food from adults. They reach out with their snouts and nuzzle the adult animal’s mouth. They lick the adult animal’s face and nudge their head until the adult disgorge small amounts of food.

As can be seen, the way to appease an aggressive dominant dog is to pretend that you are a stupid young no-nothing puppy without a grain of hostility in your bones. In the words of Desmond Morris this is the animal equivalent of waving a white flag of surrender.