Mastiff Index

Building A Submissive Dog's Confidence

by Donna Dick

The following was written in response to a letter on the mastiff mailing list about a young mastiff with submissive tendencies.

You mentioned he is submissive (submissive urination & defecation, hiding, face to wall, etc.). I have studied Canine Behavior & Development for 8 years now and have had success rehabilitating dogs with behavioral disorders that Certified Animal Behaviorists have given up on. I am not certified because I am not interested in other species, just canines, and they do not certify just Canine Behaviorist.

This said, I just wanted to suggest to you that you may wish to try some confidence building exercises such as the following.


Instigate a game of tug of war with the puppy. Begin gently at first and allow him to instigate any rough play. Shake the towel in front of him and tell him, "get it". When the puppy takes the towel into his mouth and pulls, release the towel and LET him win. Then praise him generously, "good boy!".

As the puppy builds confidence and begins to pull more on the towel, offer a little resistance and tug back, but always let him win, and then praise generously!

Important Note: When doing this exercise with an Alpha dog, do not allow him to win. Make him release the towel or tug when you command, "OUT".


Get down onto the floor with the puppy. A more submissive puppy will lay down and turn belly up when you initiate any contact with him. A really submissive may even urinate at this point. A less submissive will just sit down and turn his head away and not make eye contact.

While you are on the floor with the puppy place your head beneath his neck and allow him to be `Dominant Dog' for as long as you both are comfortable. (Do not try this exercise with an Alpha dog, but a submissive will never try to dominate you). Repeat this exercise on a daily basis.


When the puppy is comfortable with the Submission Exercise, place the puppy over the top of you and let him stand or lay over you. (Like a baby laying on your stomach.) While he is there you can massage or rub him and talk gently to him. Again, do not do this exercise with an Alpha dog, you will be inviting trouble. But a submissive dog will not try to establish himself as pack leader and will not try to dominate you.


When the puppy is laying down begin by gently rubbing (like petting) him. As he becomes more accustomed to the idea, start gently massaging the back, sides, neck, then move on to the legs, head, and finally (this should be last) belly. Because by forcing a dog to expose the belly, you are forcing him to submit to you and this is the opposite effect you are trying to accomplish.

Massage Therapy is naturally relaxing and calming. By massaging the muscles it forces the body to release endorphins and enkephalins which provide, an opium like effect, and causes the dog to relax. These substances (and other hormones in the body, such as adrenaline, nor-adrenaline, and corticosteroids) are associated with reactions to physical and psychological stress and adaptation to stress; therefore, it assists the brain to become more accepting of new, and what may usually be frightening, stimuli.

Do not force a submissive dog to accept Massage Therapy. If he gets up and walks away, let him do so. If he continues to walk away and does not accept your attentions, begin while he is standing by just rubbing him (as petting) then slowly continue the exercises and gradually work them into a massage. I have never seen a dog who eventually did not accept this technique.

NOTE: If the dog was an Alpha, I would force the dog into a Dominant Down and then continue the Massage Therapy.


Begin socialization in areas of calm and away from excited stimuli, such as the park on a quiet day. Perform Massage Therapy on the puppy on the premises where you are doing the socialization. This will help to calm him and allow him to become more accepting of new stimuli.

Introduce puppy slowly to adults or calm children. Be certain children do not run up to puppy so as not to startle him.

As puppy becomes more accepting of new situations gradually introduce him to new and more advance stimuli; each time performing the Massage Therapy at the location where socialization is to occur. Socialization of a shy pup should be done very gradually. One set back can be very hard to overcome and put you back to square one.

I STRONGLY suggest the Massage Therapy! It has cut the rehabilitation time from 1/2 -2/3 in ALL of the dogs I have worked with, be it Fear Motivated Aggressive, Dominant Aggressive, Species Aggressive; from Dominant Alpha to Submissively shy. Try it! It REALLY works!

I know that there are some doubtful people who are quick to berate the Massage Therapy. To these people I would like to say, "try it before you knock it". Actually give it a workable effort.

An excellent book of reference for you is: The Healing Touch by Dr. Michael Fox, DVM. It is $11.95 and teaches all of the best techniques. It can be ordered from any book store.

Well, I hope this helps. Good Luck with your new addition! With your help, he really will be a super star!

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