Dominance in dogs is where an individual gets the first pick over a resource. In wild dogs and wolves this would be over a mate, food, or shelter. In a domesticated dog it would be over food, toys, attention, a spot on the sofa, etc. Dogs will warn others about their claim on
the object by a growl or small show of teeth.
“When two dogs meet, they will have no prior experience of the likely response of the other in any context. Over repeated encounters, they will learn to recognize the specific cues that might predict a positive or negative response in the other individual, alter their behaviour accordingly, and gradually learn how the other dog is likely to respond in a range of different contexts. For example, a puppy coming into a household where an existing dog highly values food, but not toys, would rapidly learn not to approach the adult in the context of food, but may confidently pull a toy out of the other dog’s mouth.”
-Journal of Veterinary Behaviour, Volume 4, 2009, Bradshaw, Blackwell, and Casey, Dominance in Domestic Dogs
This explains how dogs learn who is dominant over which resource. In this example they give it is that the older dog has dominance over food.
When a dog is submissive it means that it acknowledges that it has lower standing. There will be the submissive body language of rolling onto the back to show that they mean no harm and this avoids any physical contact.
This behaviour may be shown when setting dominance over a certain resource or when they feel threatened. Before rolling on their back the dog may express a stance that makes them look more like a puppy. The submissive dog may also urinate –
“Submissive urination is a reflex action learnt at an early stage when the adult female would gently turn her cubs over and lick them to stimulate urination and defecation. The cub learns that being turned over is a dominant behaviour on the part of its mother, whilst lying on its back and urinating is a submissive behaviour. As it gets older, this behaviour is used to signify submission and acceptance of another’s higher rank.”
-Why does my dog…?, 1991, Fisher, John, page 56
Submissive behaviour also includes:
When a dog is fearful it will show a mixture of behaviours. Different behaviours include putting the tail between the legs, barking, licking lips, and showing teeth.
Some universal symptoms of fear are:
Other behavioural signs of fear comprise of avoidance, vocalising (yelping, gruffing, howling, barking), and if they have been showing signs for warning then fear aggression.
Some dogs could even opt to destroying something, for example tearing their bedding up or chewing on a chair leg.
Aggression types that are most commonly shown are Fear-based aggression and Status aggression although there are many other factors that can trigger aggressive behaviour, for example, pain or a mother protecting her puppies.
Fear based aggression is probably the most common of all the aggression types because a dog can develop a fear easily to associating a bad happening with a stimulus. This is why dogs that have been mistreated by a human will often show aggressiveness towards other humans because of the link between the bad happening and the human.
Status aggression links back to dominance. When dogs are in groups they’ll set hierarchies over different things, like a toy, or food, or a certain member of the household and if another dog tries to take that resource from the dominant dog an aggressive rivalry might start. When the dog shows this type of aggression towards the owners it shows a lack of dominance in the owners.
“Aggression is usually a defence reflex, initially exhibited as a threat or warning, ultimately exhibited in a real form when there is no other option left. In other words, it can usually be avoided if you understand the cause, can read signs and know how to desensitise the dog’s lack of trust towards the situation that resulted in the aggressive confrontation – nearly all aggression results from a lack of trust on the part of the dog.”
- Why does my dog…?, 1991, Fisher, John, page 68
If a dog is stressed it can lead to the dog doing what is called compulsive behaviour.
“Compulsive behaviour commonly occurs in response to psychological or emotional stress, and typically involves behaviours that are performed repetitively, excessively, or out of normal context. Studies in humans and domestic animals have shown that compulsive, repetitive behaviour decreases heart rate ~ in other words; compulsive, repetitive behaviour serves a de-stressing function. Essentially, compulsive behaviours are coping strategies. Many dogs display compulsive behaviour when under the influence of frustration, anxiety or conflict, particularly social conflict.”
-Caninemind.co.uk, Angel, Lizi, 2007-2012
Some examples of compulsive behaviours are:
A dog can show signs of stress by doing these behaviours but they can be counteracted by a positive reinforcement with a situation where they would usually do a compulsive behaviour. A treat or playtime is effective because it gives them something to do and takes their mind off ‘bad’ stimulus.
Other signs of canine stress are lip licking, eye contact avoidance, yawning, general restlessness.
-How pain affects animals, 2007, Seksel, Kersti