VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!
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Thread: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

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    Member musapan's Avatar
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    Unhappy VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    My 11 month old Border Collie/Basenji mix (Ayana) is possibly the most submissive dog I've ever met. It seems she's growing more and more submissive each day.

    I'm a positive reinforcement dog trainer, and I have never, ever, raised a hand to this dog, nor would I ever think of it. Only treats and motivation do the training in this house, and my husband is the same way. (She's certainly less submissive with him, because he's as gentle and harmless as a ladybug.) I've only ever had to even raise my voice at this dog three, maybe four times in the months we've had her. (But each time I did, she acted as if her world was crumbling. Once, when I yelled just out of concern when I heard my cat make a loud, pained sound as the two of them were playing in the other room, my dog immediately slunk to me with her tail between her legs, followed me from room to room as I searched for the cat, and ended up peeing in front of me as a last ditch effort to appease me.)

    Lately, she's begun slinking around in that submissive manner when we go to put on her harness and leash. She goes places with us almost every day, the dog park, the store, or just out for a drive, and she loves it. But when we go to put the harness on her, she acts like she's in trouble, and acts that way until the harness is completely on.

    Today, I was training with her in the house, as usual. But every time I asked her to sit, she started slinking around, tail between her legs in that similar fashion. I wondered if I was somehow acting upset with her, so I really broke out the 'happy, high-pitched, you're-doing-a-great-job' voice, but it didn't make a difference. We took a break, and I came back to try again. She was acting much better until I decided to work on a new trick with her, balancing a treat on her nose.

    She did it right away, and I rewarded her excitedly and handsomely. But every time after that first attempt, when I went to gently hold her under the chin to place the treat, she would do everything in her power to look away from me, ears flattened. Then when I released her, slinking away in submission again.

    Can anyone tell me what's going on? I've met some submissive dogs, but usually it stems from their upbringing, and usually there is a lot of ridiculously outdated 'alpha dog' stuff going on in the household. I hate seeing her like this, she's normally such a goofy, happy puppy and we really couldn't love her enough!

    Any and all feedback would be greatly appreciated!
    Last edited by musapan; 11-29-2012 at 06:08 PM.

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  3. #2
    aiw
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    I think some dogs (like some people) are just born with really, really weak nerves. If you're certain nothing confrontational is happening I'm not sure what else you could do... Honestly, if training is freaking her out that much I might just stop training (assuming there are no major behaviour problems to fix).

    Has she always been like this? Is it possible the handling for the harness is hurting her in some way? A vet visit might help...

    I don't really know what else to suggest, usually we would suggest some clicker training to build confidence... Good luck with her though, I hope she starts feeling better!

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    Senior Member HollowHeaven's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    Yeah I think I might take her to the vet, just in case.
    I suppose it could just be in the nature of that particular dog, but still. Better safe than sorry.

    Hope you can get this resolved.
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    Nil
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    Some dogs are naturally more prone to stress than others. I know you say you are all positive...but that is really only true if the dog believes you are all positive. I'm not saying you are a meany...I am just saying that a dog can perceive things that we think are positive in a negative manner. I bring this up because you said she gets really submissive when you start training. How do you train (clicker yes, but specifically if you were training a new behavior what would you do)? Are you staring at her? Are you holding your breath? Are you making fast movements? Are you getting stressed about her getting it? How long are your training sessions for? What is your reinforcement rate like? What are you training now that she gets submissive?

    When you did the sit, were you in a new place? Was the ground cold or wet? Was there something going on?

    The harness thing isn't quite as strange to me. Does she like being handled? Not petted, but handled as in checking mouth, checking ears, checking paws, etc. How are you getting the harness on? Are you standing over her? Some dogs don't like to be manipulated but once the whatever is on they are fine. Did you do any conditioning to the harness?

    11 year old- Siberian Husky Mix

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    Senior Member sclevenger's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    I had an Aussie pup that was like this when it came to new tricks. I did some digging around and was advised that maybe he wasn't confident and to do more playing and concentrate on tricks he already knows. To be silly and happy and to build his confidence. I'll be honest,...I thought are you serious, this isn't a child that is failing at spelling because he's unsure of himself....but I gave it a try and for several weeks, I didn't teach him anything new, we did the tricks he knew with lots of awesome treats and praise and we played games...and then one day, I thought lets give this a try and he learned to roll over with only one pin ear moment.

    So, although in my thoughts they aren't humans, but sometimes I think they do feel the same emotions that we do. So its something you could try, it worked for us!

    Good Luck!

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    Member musapan's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    Quote Originally Posted by aiw View Post
    I think some dogs (like some people) are just born with really, really weak nerves. If you're certain nothing confrontational is happening I'm not sure what else you could do... Honestly, if training is freaking her out that much I might just stop training (assuming there are no major behaviour problems to fix).

    Has she always been like this? Is it possible the handling for the harness is hurting her in some way? A vet visit might help...

    I don't really know what else to suggest, usually we would suggest some clicker training to build confidence... Good luck with her though, I hope she starts feeling better!
    I'm going to be taking her to the vet soon... She needs a check-up anyway, but I was going to address this as well. We tried clicker training briefly, but she responded no different to it than my marker word. (Yes) The thing is, she LOVES training! Being part border, she learns so fast and so well, and she is VERY treat motivated. It's mostly training in the house when she starts slinking around like that, but she doesn't do that all the time. The main problem is not knowing what's triggering her feeling of submission, I suppose.
    Thank you for the feedback XD

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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    Quote Originally Posted by HollowHeaven View Post
    Yeah I think I might take her to the vet, just in case.
    I suppose it could just be in the nature of that particular dog, but still. Better safe than sorry.

    Hope you can get this resolved.
    Thank you. :3 I'll be taking her to the vet soon for her check-up, so I'll be making sure everything's alright then.

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    Member musapan's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    Quote Originally Posted by Nil View Post
    Some dogs are naturally more prone to stress than others. I know you say you are all positive...but that is really only true if the dog believes you are all positive. I'm not saying you are a meany...I am just saying that a dog can perceive things that we think are positive in a negative manner. I bring this up because you said she gets really submissive when you start training. How do you train (clicker yes, but specifically if you were training a new behavior what would you do)? Are you staring at her? Are you holding your breath? Are you making fast movements? Are you getting stressed about her getting it? How long are your training sessions for? What is your reinforcement rate like? What are you training now that she gets submissive?

    When you did the sit, were you in a new place? Was the ground cold or wet? Was there something going on?

    The harness thing isn't quite as strange to me. Does she like being handled? Not petted, but handled as in checking mouth, checking ears, checking paws, etc. How are you getting the harness on? Are you standing over her? Some dogs don't like to be manipulated but once the whatever is on they are fine. Did you do any conditioning to the harness?
    You asked a lot of good questions! I'm going to try and address them in order.
    How do you train (clicker yes, but specifically if you were training a new behavior what would you do)? Are you staring at her? Are you holding your breath?

    I use my marker word, 'yes'. She loves this word, and knows exactly what it means. When training a new behavior, I'm very patient with her. The moment you start to get frustrated with a dog, they get frustrated too, so I keep it positive and fun, and I make sure to give lots of breaks and not to work on something for longer than she's comfortable. I do stare at her, especially when doing things like "watch me", but she's never had a problem giving me eye-contact during training, only when she's in trouble! I don't hold my breath, at least, I'm pretty sure I don't. I know that I can't do that while I'm teaching classes, since usually I'm explaining something as I'm working on the behavior.

    Are you making fast movements? Are you getting stressed about her getting it? How long are your training sessions for? What is your reinforcement rate like?

    No fast movements... Again, at least I don't think so. I don't usually get stressed or frustrated, since like I mentioned, that only makes it harder to train. If I find myself getting stressed, I'll reward her big-time and then end the session on a good note. I usually only train her for a few minutes at a time, and I like to throw training into everyday situations, as well. And unless she's done something a million times, (like 'sit') she gets a reward every time she completes a behavior, usually treats but sometimes toys or praise.

    What are you training now that she gets submissive? When you did the sit, were you in a new place? Was the ground cold or wet? Was there something going on?

    Balancing a treat on her nose. And when we did the sit, we were just in the living room, where we usually work on things. However, that's also the area where we put on her harness... At first I thought she was acting that way because she thought I was going to put the harness on, so we moved to another room. Nope, there was nothing going on.

    Does she like being handled?

    Ooohhh yes. My favorite thing to do with her is play with her paws, and really work around the toes. She'll let you do pretty much anything to any part of her.

    How are you getting the harness on? Are you standing over her? Some dogs don't like to be manipulated but once the whatever is on they are fine. Did you do any conditioning to the harness?

    We gently ask her to sit and stay, and kneel down to her level to put it on. We've tried lots of different ways of putting it on, to see what's the most comfortable for her, but it doesn't seem to matter. When we first started putting the harness on her, we gave her lots of treats and praise. We may have to back-track and start doing that again.

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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    Quote Originally Posted by sclevenger View Post
    I had an Aussie pup that was like this when it came to new tricks. I did some digging around and was advised that maybe he wasn't confident and to do more playing and concentrate on tricks he already knows. To be silly and happy and to build his confidence. I'll be honest,...I thought are you serious, this isn't a child that is failing at spelling because he's unsure of himself....but I gave it a try and for several weeks, I didn't teach him anything new, we did the tricks he knew with lots of awesome treats and praise and we played games...and then one day, I thought lets give this a try and he learned to roll over with only one pin ear moment.

    So, although in my thoughts they aren't humans, but sometimes I think they do feel the same emotions that we do. So its something you could try, it worked for us!

    Good Luck!
    I have definitely read about dogs who need confidence-building training... Apparently some seach-and-rescue dogs can actually get so distressed when they don't find a certain number of survivors, their trainers will plant healthy, living people to save to boost the dog's confidence! And it works! XD
    I may have to learn some more confidence building techniques for her. That's a very good suggestion, thank you.

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    Senior Member lil_fuzzy's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    I don't know if this is the case here, but I did hear of another dog who had learnt that acting all pathetic got him loads of attention and he loved it so much that he would always cower and slink towards people when greeting them. The solution was to ignore him when he approached, unless he acted more confident, and after 2 weeks it was fixed.

    This would of course not work for a dog who is truly scared, but what reminded me of this was that you said she seemed scared, so you did some training and broke out your happy voice. If that's your normal response, to try to make her feel better, it might just be a learnt behaviour.

    I've seen some of this in Obi too. Sometimes during training he completely deflates for no apparent reason. My first reaction was that something was wrong and I tried to coax him to continue and mollycoddled him etc. And it kept happening. In the end I got sick of it, because I could see no good reason for it to be happening, so in the end I just ignored him when he did it. Sometimes I even put him out of the room when he refused to snap out of it. When he got over it we would continue with fun training, and now it hasn't happened for ages.

    Also, some dogs are so soft that they respond negatively to people leaning over them and putting a harness on. Pixie did this for a few months after I got her, I noticed she would turn away and lean away from me when I went to attach the leash to her collar, even though walkies are her favourite thing in the world. I adjusted how I approached her, and put the leash on more gently (I realised I had been moving the collar around a bit much to get it on her), and then she was fine.

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    Senior Member wvasko's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    thought lets give this a try and he learned to roll over with only one pin ear moment.
    Curious, what is a pin ear moment.
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    Nil
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    You know, what lil_fuzzy mentioned makes sense. If you do end up coddling or giving more attention when she acts that way then I could certainty see a connection. Border collies are too smart! While I would love to own one...I don't know if I could keep up!

    The only other suggestion I can think of is teaching her to put the harness on herself. Like put the harness on the ground and cue a "paw" so she raises her paw and you can slip it on without handling her. I don't know if it would help but it might. Have you thought about switching harnesses and just starting over?

    And like sclevenger said, limit training new things. Work on confidence building. If she acts submissive, just end the training session and ignore her. If she comes up to you for more then start up again. You've gotten some really good ideas to try so far. I'm interested in hearing how it goes.

    Maybe you can video tape a training session some time and then re-play it to see when/if she gets submissive. You can pick up a lot of things when you can act as an observer.

    11 year old- Siberian Husky Mix

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    Senior Member hanksimon's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    BCs AND Basenjis are very smart. BCs can be sensitive... and the one cat incident could have been the trigger.
    (I don't hit my dog... at least not for punishment :-) But, one day I was yelling at a ball game on TV and when a commercial came on I went over to my dog and raise my hands ... and he cringed... He's not a sensitive dog, but he is intelligent. He got over it quickly.)

    Random suggestion - What would happen if you got a bowl of small treats - fingernail sized and went into the kitchen, called Ayana, talking to her and simply tossed her a treat... continuing to do this for 5 -10 min. ? Just for free....

    Also, look up Calming Signals... Ayana may be learning faster than you recognize, and she'll lick her lips or tongue... or yawn during training, b/c she understands and you don't recognize it (or she doesn't understand and is getting stressed)... I didn't recognize that I was keeping my dog too long when doing Sit - Stays, until I learned Calming Signals.

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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    Quote Originally Posted by wvasko View Post
    Curious, what is a pin ear moment.
    Yeah, dido on that question.
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    Even simple things can build confidence...Like sit on the floor with your legs extended, with her on one side of your legs. Throw a treat over to the other side and tell her 'jump". She will jump over to get the treats. Then raise your legs up a little, repeat. Praise each time. Small things like that can boost their confidence.

    If your house is dry, is she getting zapped by static when you touch her, so she is associating it with something bad?
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    Senior Member hanksimon's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    I think a pin ear moment is that time when a dog shows that he's stressed and pins his ears back. It fits the context.

    I'm just guessing....

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    Senior Member wvasko's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    I notice OP never got back to explain, HS you are probably correct, I did not have a clue. I originally thought it might be some kind of ear pinch. My mind always starts in the dark side.
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    All I can say is that my dog is very similar with her harness. She slinks around and crouches and acts like I am about to hurt her. But once it's on her tail wags and she's ready for her walk. I know one time the harness pinched her. I don't have any great suggestions but at least wanted to throw in my two cents.

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    Senior Member hanksimon's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    I think "ear pinch" was a natural interpretation for those of us who have seen the act. And, that's why I went looking. On the same note, when I was first training Shep as a pup, I was concerned that people would think I was using an ear pinch to make him stop barking. But, in fact I was sticking my finger in his ear to massage it, changing the barking into a moan :-)

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    Senior Member elrohwen's Avatar
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    Re: VERY Submissive Dog... Can't Understand It!

    I don't have a lot of suggestions, but for the harness, have you tried having her touch the harness first? My pup would do something similar, slinking away when the harness came out, though he's normally very bold and loves handling. I taught him to touch the harness with his nose and worked on just getting an enthusiastic touch for a couple days. I started with the harness on the ground, and progressed to holding it in my hand, and touching his body with it before giving the "touch" cue (like you would touch a horse with a blanket to get them used to it). Now, he runs to the harness when I bring it out and I can put it on him without chasing him around the kitchen. My next step is to get him to step into it himself by targeting each paw to the holes, but we haven't worked on that yet.

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