Obnoxious Active Submission Is Connected To Dog Aggression

Submission is said to come in two basic forms, active and passive. Passive submission is much calmer and tends to keep dogs out of trouble. It’s kind of a roll over and play dead or “please rub my belly” sort of thing. Active submission, on the other hand, can be much more pushy and “in your face” and includes behaviors such as jumping, licking, barking and pawing, which most people generally don’t think of as submissive. While the purpose of submission is supposed to be to turn off or avoid aggression, active submission tends to get mixed responses, depending on how it is displayed and the temperament of the one on the receiving end of it. 

Why would submission trigger, rather than avoid, aggression? 

Some dogs will take active submission to the point of being unrelenting and hyper-active, which we will call Obnoxious Submission. Sure, it can be entertaining, similar to Overly Intense Play and Hyperactivity, and the dog displaying this behavior means well, but it can trigger an aggressive response from others because it is super annoying, hence the term obnoxious. We need to be alert to this potential problem and avoid letting things get out of hand. Below are a few bullets on the subject: 

Signs of Obnoxious Submission

  • Space invasion, jumping, pawing, licking, squirming, crawling, barking, whimpering, whining, etc. 
  • Crawling under the other dog, cutting them off, getting in front of them and rolling over, licking their mouth, following them around and doing it over and over again, not taking no for an answer. “Come on, I’ll be your best friend. Please, please, pleeeeease!!!” 
  • People often overindulge active submissive behaviors because they think it’s cute and entertaining but it is to the detriment of the dog’s character. The dog is being taught that pushiness pays off and to expect immediate gratification from the rest of the world. Other dogs may see the behavior as obnoxious and in need of severe repercussions. (see: Hyperactivity and Tight Leash)

Can Trigger Dominance 

  • Oh no, I used the D word. Yes, I’m aware that there is a lot of controversy around the topic of dominance in dogs but the fact of the matter is that dogs are descendants of wolves and, while dogs have evolved to have some behavioral differences from wolves, domestication has not removed dominance and submission from their social lives. Failure to recocnize this fact can literally be a fatal mistake.
  • Many dogs, sometimes even dogs that are typically more passive or submissive, will aggressively dominate a dog showing unrelenting, hyperactive, obnoxious submission. 
  • This can be true of human behavior as well. Dogs often dominate or attack humans, particularly children, who display what the dog interprets as obnoxious, active submissive behavior.
  • Perhaps it’s due to “being their chance” to be dominant or perhaps it’s just an instinct that the dog doesn’t even understand and is simply reacting to on some primal level. Either way, it often seems to me that the yin needs a yang to balance things out. It’s as if this sort of submission compels dominance from some primitive place deep within the other dog. 
  • Unfortunately, it can also go beyond dominance and into rage, so obnoxious submission needs to be kept in check, starting with how humans interact with their dogs on a daily basis. (see: Hyperactivity and Tight Leash)  

Very Annoying or Enraging To Some Dogs and People. 

  • Some dogs, dominance related or not, will simply get annoyed or enraged by obnoxious submission. 
  • Some will tolerate it for a while before aggressing, others will aggress almost instantly to this sort of obnoxious-hyper-friendly behavior. 
  • Some people will also be brought to a point of being aggressive in order to get the dog to stop bothering them. Often it’s the same people who indulged the behavior in puppyhood who lose their temper when the dog grows and they decide they don’t like it anymore. Often people are simply moody, indulging the behavior sometimes and then getting angry at the dog other times for the same behavior. (Inconsistency is number 3 in my Top 8 Punishment Mistakes in dog training.)  

The good news about dogs that display obnoxious submissive behavior is that they are being friendly and social, which is a great starting point for a pet dog. However, if it leads to them being attacked, they could wind up becoming aggressive themselves. (see: History, FearThe secret is to recognize that this is a potentially problematic behavior which should not be overindulged. Friendly or not, it can lead to aggression if not kept in check. As always, calmness, obedience, leadership, proper exercise and impulse control are probably missing in this dog’s life and it all starts at home on a daily basis.

Chad Culp – Certified Dog Trainer, Canine Behavior Consultant, Owner of Thriving Canine. 

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