Helping Submissive Dogs Interact With Other Dogs

Question: I have three dogs, two females and a younger male. The young male (a Great Dane) is very submissive to both of the girls, as in he will crawl on his belly and lick whatever part of them he can reach and cry the entire time. The females (one Samoyed and one Great Dane) will tolerate for a brief amount of time before they lash out and draw blood – he still licks and cries the whole time. I have tried having him leashed by my side, they are crated side by side to be familiarize with each other, over a year later the same nonsense. Our solution thus far has to be not to let them out together. He has a tremendous amount of self-confidence everywhere else EXCEPT with my other two females. Open to ideas…

Let’s talk about Chrissie Owens’ question first this week. This is one of those situations where, unfortunately, it’s difficult for me be sure I’m giving you the best possible advice because in order to do so, I’d really need quite a bit more information. Ideally, I’d also need to observe your dogs together. But I’ll give you the best advice I can under the circumstances.

Firstly, I should point out that when a dog is simply telling another dog, “That’s enough,” it’s very rare for blood to be drawn. Dogs are masters of subtle communication. The fact that both of your girls are drawing blood, let alone consistently, tells me there may be more going on here than is readily discernible. The girls may be showing more subtle signs which neither you or your male dane are picking up. It is when subtler signs are not heeded, and the offending canine keeps on coming, so to speak, that aggression can escalate. For this reason, I think it would be extremely beneficial for you to find a local trainer who can come to your home and observe first-hand what is going on.

Short of having a trainer come to your home, though, I will give you what other advice I can. However, it’s not clear to me from your initial post whether or not/ to what degree/ for how long you feel the dogs can be together safely. Nor is it clear whether or not your male dane ever exhibits behavior other than appeasement when he’s around the girls. All the advice I have to offer centers around having the dogs out together, since they need not only to become accustomed to one another in general, but to learn how to interact together. However, if you do not feel that you can conduct these exercises safely, then please seek out help from a local trainer first. I certainly wouldn’t want any of your dogs to incur any serious injuries because of my advice.

For starters, dogs can and do, not uncommonly, ‘gang up’ on one another. And given that you have two female dogs who’ve been in the household together the longest and the intruder is a younger male, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to see this happening. Your boy clearly wants very badly to make friends with the girls, but if they are ganging up and he is never able to elicit any type of interaction beyond rebuffed appeasement attempts, that’s unlikely to happen. So the first thing I’d think about doing is separating the girls for ‘training’ sessions. Let each of them develop their own rapport with the male, and vice versa.

During these one-on-one ‘training’ sessions, there are several things I would suggest doing. Begin with a helper and with both dogs on leash. Mark (with a clicker or a “Yes!”) and reward (with very yummy treats):


on the part of your male dane:

  • any more confident, appropriate greeting or play-eliciting behavior
  • any nice behavior not directed toward the other dog. You can even ask him to perform some simple operant behaviors he already knows (like sit or down).

on the part of the female:

  • any appropriate behavior directed toward the male. Nice, friendly greeting (sniffing, etc) behavior, play invites, or simply a genuinely happy, relaxed demeanor.

If the female raises a lip at the male, or gives any other subtle signs (such as refusing to look at the male) that she’d like her space, remove the male from the room and give him a giant ‘jackpot’ of treats for leaving. Wait a minute or so and bring him back into the room and start over, but do not immediately encourage interaction between the dogs; work on some other behaviors for a bit.

Another good exercise to try would be tandem walks; simply take your male dane, one of the girls and a helper out for a walk. Bring some treats and reward anything especially nice, such as friendly greeting behavior or the female’s tolerance of the male’s proximity.

If and when you see a strong positive relationship developing between your boy and at least one of the girls; or when you see your boy reliably responding appropriately to subtle “keep away” signs from the girl, you can begin letting all three dogs out together for short periods of time.


Guest Contributor–Danielle Grand has spent the last decade working to parlay her affinity for animals into a dog training career. While earning her Bachelor’s degree in Psychology, she was involved in an experimental study on canine cognition. She has also obtained her dog training certification from Animal Behavior College and attended numerous dog training seminars conducted by respected behaviorists. At home in New York’s capital region, she works closely with colleagues and mentors to expand her expertise; she hopes to help forge strong, happy relationships between many dogs and their humans.


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