It is a misconception that dogs are either dominant or submissive. The same dog can behave very differently in different situations. Incidentally, dominance has nothing to do with disobedience but merely shows who is higher up in the hierarchy.
Anyone who describes their dog as fundamentally dominant or submissive does not do justice to the complexity of dog behavior. A four-legged friend at the top of the hierarchy at home with his dog friends can utter appeasement signals to strangers of the same species in the dog park and thus show submissive behavior. Also, dominance should not be an excuse for mistakes in dog training.
The dog is dominant: body language and behavior.
If a dog behaves dominantly, its body language can recognize this quite clearly. He makes himself as big as possible, seems self-confident, and sets the tone. For example, he holds his head up, the body is straight, and the ears are high and pointing forward. He will withstand stares or possibly stare, tail held high and wagging at a slow, calm pace – as if waving a flag. Dominant dogs rest their heads or chins on the backs or shoulders of their peers. If the submissive four-legged friend has rolled onto his back, the dominant animal may be standing over him.
Dominant dogs, or the animals that enjoy the highest status, are allowed to determine resources; that doesn’t mean they always eat before everyone else, pick a toy first, or lead the way. It depends on what is essential to the “alpha” dog. He clarifies to his four-legged roommates what is necessary to him, and they leave their privileges to their “pack leader.”
This is how a dog behaves when it is submissive.
Calming signals are always a sign that your dog is being submissive at that moment. His body language and behavior show that he is not a threat. He comes with peaceful intentions and does not intend to compete with the dominating conspecific for his territory, food, toys, or place in the hierarchy. He makes himself as small as possible, bending or lowering his body and keeping his ears low. The rod may be tucked in or at least reduced. Submissive dogs often turn on their backs, exposing their abdomens to a vulnerable spot.
In the game, dogs alternate between submissive and dominant; one, sometimes the other, can play the role of the “alpha animal.” Notably, both dominant and submissive behaviors are expected and beneficial for dogs; one is no better or worse than the other.
Danger! Do not confuse dominance and parenting mistakes.
A still widespread misconception about dog training is that humans, as pack leaders, should dominate their dogs. To accomplish this, rules are recommended, some of which seem very dogmatic. The four-legged friend should always be the last through the door, only get his food when the people have eaten up, and should always be punished if he protests against these rules.
Proponents of this theory overlook that dogs don’t disobey to rebel and annoy their humans—after all, they’re not pubescent teenagers. If a four-legged friend does not follow specific rules, he either does not know that these rules exist or has not understood what you want from him. So disobedience is a symptom of failed training or misunderstandings in dog-human communication. This is a chance for you to understand your four-legged friend better and adapt to him better. In the guide “How your dog understands commands better: 5 tips,” you will find tips on remedying communication breakdowns.