Active vs Passive Submission in dogs

(The following is from my coursework for the ISCP’s Diploma in Canine Psychology)

Q:
What is the difference between active and passive submission? Give examples of dogs you have observed displaying both of these.

A:
Active submission is when a dog does the action on purpose, to avoid confrontation with another dog, or to show to humans that it isn’t a threat, that it doesn’t want conflict or is not interested in engaging.

Once in the park, my dogs were disturbed in their play by the arrival of a couple of dogs on lead – a large Bearnese Mountain Dog and a yellow Labrador. The Labrador was old, and made it clear that it didn’t want to engage with my two dogs, by promptly sitting down and looking away. The younger Bearnese Mountain Dog and my Scruffy engaged in a friendly sniff-and-greet ritual, followed by play-bows and excited lunging by the younger dog. When my Shelagh went up to the Labrador, it showed her that it did not feel like playing or even getting to know her, by lifting its lips over its teeth and then pointedly looking away. It then licked its lips and gave a yawn and looked really disinterested, until Shelagh went away.

This was clearly a dog that knew what it was doing, and what it wanted to avoid. It was an older, wiser and no doubt confident dog. And Shelagh, having correctly read its body language, knew to stay away and not engage.

I remember Rhianne, a young Kelpie pup at the Refuge that I fell in love with last year. She was very fearful at first. I’d gone into her enclosure to take her out for a walk, but ended up spending 15 minutes just sitting with her getting to know her, and for her to get to know me first. When I approached her, she ran to the other end of the enclosure, tail between her legs. When she realised there was nowhere to hide, and I was still approaching her, Rhianne did the only other thing she could do to indicate that she was no threat, as a plea for me to be gentle with her. She lay on her side, rolled over and exposed her belly. As I crouched down to give her a pat, she urinated.

I felt so sorry for poor little Rhianne. I sat down next to her and just waited, speaking to her in a low voice and keeping it soft. After a few minutes, she jumped up and ran off to the other end of her kennel. I stayed where I was, still speaking to her and not looking directly at her. I held out a treat. Rhianne’s curiosity got the better of her, and she trotted over to take the treat. Once she was taking food from me, I knew I’d gained her trust. I spent a few more minutes patting her and giving her treats, and learned that Rhianne was very smart and knew several basic commands already. By the time I decided to clip on her lead and take her out for her walk, Rhianne was quite a different dog, jumping onto my lap and giving me face-licks, tail wagging with excitement.

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(Image sourced from Pinterest, copyright 2010 Dogs for defense K-9 http://www.dfdk9.com)

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