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Canine Behavior/Submissive Dog??


QUESTION: Thank you in advance for your advice.
I have 2 maltese (1 male (3 yo) rescued ~ 2 years ago (Rudy) / 1 female (5 yo; Maggie).  I added a male (1 yo 09/2012; Max) that was rescued from a puppy mill, adopted, then the new owners couldn't care for him.  I am essentially his 4th home.
Initially, the 2 males got along well and Maggie was left out.  Max was aggressive and would lunge at the other 2 and play rougher than they wanted.  I have done some clicker training with him for his high energy / aggressive behaviors and that has worked quite well.  Now, they are getting along much better.  My problem is that for the life of me, I cannot potty train Max. I have resolved to using a diaper during my absence because I was cleaning up 5-6 messes / day.  I am also having some difficulty intepreting his other behaviors.
When I ask if the pups are ready to go out & go potty, all 3 get excited.  When we get to the door, however, he walks to ~ 5 feet from the door and then, lies on his back which requires me to pick him up to get him out.  What does that mean?
He also rubs his face / body on me (especially on my face) at night.  What does that mean?
On the other side of the coin, he often "humps" people & the other dogs which I would think is aggressive / assertive behavior (is that right)?
He also likes to play the aggressor when playing with the other dogs.
So, I am confused if it is more of a submissive or aggressive type dog and how best to work with him to best train him and how to help get him potty trained.
Any advice you have would be greatly appreciated!!!

ANSWER: Thank you for your question. And kudos to you for taking in a puppy mill rescue. Puppy mill dogs come with a whole host of baggage. They are generally kept in small crates with zero opportunity to play or interact with other dogs, which mean they miss out on critical dog-dog socialization. They also are forced to potty in that crate where they live, which creates a two-fold problem for the later adopter. First, it's often extremely difficult to potty train them to not go in the house because they've learned to potty where they are. Secondly, the substrate (ground cover) that puppies learn to potty in initially will be their preference for life and it can be very difficult to teach them to change that preference down the road. In other words, a puppy who only pottied on concrete may be uncomfortable going potty on grass. A puppy who only pottied on grass or dirt or sand may be very uncomfortable going on concrete. A puppy who only pottied in a crate or inside, may find it very difficult to go potty under a great big sky.

This doesn't mean it's impossible. Just that it will take a great deal of patience and quiet, gentle encouragement to help the dog learn a new potty place.

The important thing to understand is that the dog is not going potty in the house to upset you, nor is he refusing to go outside to annoy you. The burden is on us to create a routine and schedule for him so that he is outside when he needs to go, quietly encourage him to go when he's out there, and then quietly-but-enthusiastically praise/reward him for going in the right place when he does. The flip side is that if we catch him mid-potty in the wrong place, we can tell him "No." in a stern, but not too loud, voice, and then immediately and VERY SWEETLY tell him "let's go potty" and take him to the right place. He's small enough that you can pick him up easily. I've found that if I scoop up the dog "baby" style and tuck the hind legs toward the belly, this helps to lock down the sphincter muscles and stop the flow of potty while in transport. Then, once outside, be super sweet and super patient. He'll need as long as 5-10 minutes to relax enough to let go and finish his business. When you get him outside, tell him "go potty" and wait patiently and quietly for him to do his thing. Then, as before, whispered praise "good potty" while he's going and quiet-but-enthusiastic praise/reward the moment he finishes potty WHILE YOU'RE STILL OUTSIDE AT THE SPOT WHERE HE JUST WENT. This last bit is critical. That praise, game, treat must happen where the potty happened (in the right place). If you wait until he's back inside to give a treat, you are no longer rewarding potty. Instead you're rewarding coming back inside - which is fine if your dog hesitates to come back in. But if your intent is to reward potty in the right place, then we need to make sure the reward happens at that moment and in that place.

There's a well received book called Puppy Mills Dogs SPEAK! Happy Stories and Helpful Advice .
It has some good information about the issues that many puppy mill dogs face when they are put into "normal" homes. Chapter 2 is about potty training.

As for the other issues you mentioned - having been in a puppy mill likely means that Max never had a chance to learn to play nice with other dogs. His aggressive play is likely more about poor play skills than it is about actively wanting to be aggressive. We can help him learn better play skills by supervising play time and calling for Time Outs frequently. Time Outs can be as often as 10 or 15 seconds, or as long as several minutes - depending on the quality of play.

When I first taught my terrier puppy Time Outs (he is a pushy player), I physically picked him up to separate him from his play partner. I would announce "Time Out" and then pick up the puppy and set him down a couple feet from his playmate. I'd very gently restrain the puppy just to prevent him launching at the other dog immediately. During this moment, I'd ask for a Sit. At first, I would tell him "Free" and let him return to the game as soon as he complied with the Sit. Then, once he understood that this whole Time Out thing required him to put his bum on the floor before he could play again, I upped the ante a bit. Now, I insisted that his body needed to be calm - no fighting to get out of my hands, no vibrating with excitement, before I allowed the game to resume. If I told him "Free" and he immediately launched with the same over-arousal, I would instantly call another Time Out, even though the game was only just starting again.

After several weeks, I was able to say "Time Out" and before I could reach over to pick up the puppy, both dogs separated and sat (or lay) down on their own, eyes on me, waiting for the "free" to return to playing. Dogs who play well will give themselves timeouts in order to keep the game friendly. These will look like any of a number of things including (but not necessarily limited to):

One stops and does a full-body shake (shake off excess energy). This is often mirrored by the other dog then shaking off.

The game stops and one or both dogs averts their gaze (looks away from the other dog).

The game stops and one or both dogs becomes suddenly very interested in some unseen thing on the floor (sniffing).

Game is interrupted and one or both dogs does a downward dog stretch (often mirrored by the other dog if they didn't both do it at the same time)

One or both dogs lay down.

One or both dogs turns their back to the other dog, or steps away from the game before turning back and closing the space again.

These self-imposed time-outs may last a blink of an eye or they may last a minute or longer. If the dogs are doing any of these (or combinations of these) on their own, then you don't have to interrupt their game. When I see these behaviors occur naturally, I just quietly comment "good time out" and let the game continue because the dogs are managing their energy/excitement on their own. But, if they're not doing these things on their own, then we can help them learn the process by calling for Time Outs as described above. You can even make the time-outs more obvious by interrupting the game and then not only asking for a Sit, but then asking for another skill - down, paw, focus on me, etc. to really engage them away from the game for a moment before freeing them back to play.

Humping itself is not an aggressive behavior. It's a social behavior (unless there's a female in heat in the vicinity, then it's a reproductive behavior), and frequently is a sign of inept social skills, not an effort to be in charge in an aggressive way. Many dogs who become overstimulate (too excited/anxious) will try to mount/hump another in an effort to control their movements - not because they specifically want to be in charge, but because they're trying to calm the environment so they feel more secure. We see this in dogs who are playing and the game is getting too intense, one may suddenly try to mount the other to control the intensity of the activity. We see it with dogs toward humans sometimes when they're very excited by the people. If the people are particularly active, moving around or just arriving/getting ready to leave, this activity may make the dog nervous and so they try to control the movement of the person in order to help themselves feel more secure about what's happening.

When I see a dog humping mid-game, I usually just say, "Fido... that's rude." My tone is annoyed, but not harsh. The volume of my voice is my normal speaking volume. But because the tone is annoyed, it usually gets the dog's attention. If they don't immediately disengage from the humping behavior, then I'll tell them, "Enough" and redirect them to a different activity. This may require me to physically (but gently) separate them from the object of the hump, and then I engage them with a toy or a different game.

If the dog has a special toy that they hump regularly as part of their private play, I'll usually allow that. It can be comforting, and dogs do "masturbate" occasionally. So as long as the dog isn't obsessive about it, nor overly protective of that toy, then I allow the dog to be a dog...

One other book you may find very helpful going forward is Sophia Yin's book, How to Behave so Your Dog Behaves .
She's got a lot of useful skills spelled out to teach the dogs so that we have the household manners we'd like.

I hope this proves helpful. Please feel free to followup if I can be of further assistance.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

---------- FOLLOW-UP ----------

QUESTION: Thank you for your prompt response.  I have one other thing I fo rgot to mention.  It is next to impossible to get Max attention.  If he is across the room for misbehaving I can call his name. In virtually any tone and get NO response.  No headturn.  NOTHING.  I know he hears well because he barks at the quietest sounds he hears outside.  Even when I try to get his attention to show him I have treats.  I get no response until I shake the container.  What. Can I do to get his attention?  I have wondered if I need to rename him.  I often call Maggie, my female, Mags and wonder if the similarity in names is confusing.  I am open to anything, but think I need to find a way to get his attention before I canwcanwork on reinforcing behaviors from a distance.  Please tell me if you disagree.  What are your thoughts on clickers?  He does well with it if I have his attention already.  Can this be used to GET his attention somehow?  Again, hank you for your time and advice.  I really appreciate it!!

When clickers are used properly, they can dramatically speed up the process of learning new skills. You cannot use the clicker as an attention-getter because when used properly, the clicker is a reliable predictor of food. Because of this reliable prediction (click = yummy) it means that whatever behavior the dog was doing at the moment he hears the click, is more likely to occur again in the future. So you do want to be careful that you're only using the clicker to mark behaviors that you want him to repeat - because if you click, you also must give a treat.

You may wish to change his name. That's up to you. You didn't mention how long Max has been in your home. If it's been several months, it may be more awkward to change his name. But if it's only been a week or two, then now is a great time to do this.

You teach him his name the same way you teach him a Watch Me or Focus command.

You say the name you want him to respond to, then wait for him to make any move in your direction (head turn, walk toward you, etc). The moment that he begins to make any kind of move acknowledging you, CLICK the clicker and give him a treat. Then move to a new spot in the room (a few inches to across the room or anywhere in between). Say the name and wait for him to look/move in your direction, CLICK and treat when he does. If he's completely ignoring you, then you can repeat his name a second time. If he continues to ignore you, then make some other unique noise such as kissing noises, clicking your tongue, clearing your throat, sing a little melody, gently clap your hands, etc. Don't make the same assistance-noise more than two repetitions in a row or he may learn that the cue to look at you is that other noise.

So, it's Fido....(wait for it....) - he looks over at you - CLICK, offer a treat.
Move a few feet over.
Fido..... (wait for it....) - he looks over at you - CLICK, offer a treat.

As you practice this, he'll begin to make that association that looking at you when he hears that word is beneficial to him.

Now, some people just teach the name. But we use the dog's name A LOT, and so it can sometimes become "poisoned" in that they learn to tune it out a lot of the time. So I also like to teach a FOCUS command.

You can teach the Focus command exactly the same way as you taught his name. But because we only use it when we actually want/expect his attention on us, it's far less likely to become meaningless and far more likely to remain an effective way to get his attention. Remember, though, in his mind he's not misbehaving. He's doing something fun and engaging, and if you're not offering something equally as engaging, then why should he stop what he's doing? (that's his perspective), so when we go to redirect our dogs away from activities we don't like them doing, we need to make sure we don't leave a behavioral void. We have to actually give them an alternative behavior (engaging enough for them) that we find acceptable or they will just go back to what they were doing because it was fun...

The book I mentioned in the previous reply - How to Behave So Your Dog Behaves - has chapters that will teach you how to teach Max to Say "please" by sitting politely, basic leash skills as well as heeling, and a solid Come/Recall command. The book is available in paper back, hard cover and on Kindle. Dr. Yin (a world renowned veterinary behaviorist) is great about putting loads of photos so you can actually see what things are supposed to look like, which helps a lot when you're trying to train on your own. She also has several excellent little video clips on her website which may prove helpful to you as you work through this.

Jody, APDT
Los Angeles Behaviorist

Canine Behavior

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Jody Epstein, MS, CPDT-KA


IF YOU BELIEVE YOUR DOG IS ILL OR INJURED, PLEASE CONTACT YOUR LOCAL VETERINARIAN IMMEDIATELY. THIS IS NOT THE FORUM TO ADDRESS URGENT MEDICAL ISSUES. I AM NOT A LICENSED VET AND HAVE NO DIAGNOSTIC SKILLS. ***I have been answering questions on All Experts for over 8 years now. I enjoy being able to offer assistance in this forum. I do need to be clear, though. If you’re looking for free advice about a specific behavior question, you MUST submit your question to me via All Experts. If you bypass All Experts and write to me directly through my website, I will ask you to submit via All Experts. On the flip side, if you’re local to Los Angeles and you wish to speak to me privately about an in person consultation, please go through my website. I appreciate your assistance in keeping my volunteer work on the volunteer site.*** I can answer questions about the following canine behavior issues: obedience, timid/fearful & fear-based aggression, nuisance behaviors, families that are expanding with either new human or new animal members and many other issues. If you have potty training questions please first read my trio of blogs at If you still have questions after reading the blogs you can post your specific questions here. PLEASE be as specific as possible when asking a question. Give me a detailed example of the situation - dog's behavior, body language, circumstances surrounding the issue, what the consequences are (another dog's response, your response), etc. I can only provide insight if I can get a picture of the whole scenario. If I ask for further details, please provide them. In person I would normally observe for at least 90 minutes to assess the situation and the dynamics before offering tools and suggestions to modify it. In writing it is ever so much more difficult. Thank you for your participation in the process.


I have been a professional obedience trainer for 9 years, and specializing in behavior modification for 8 years. I have owned dogs my entire life. I own my own dog training and behavior modification business called Nutz About Mutz.

I am a Certified Profession Dog Trainer - Knowledge Assessed (CPDT-KA), #2133301 ; I am a member in good standing with the Association of Professional Dog Trainers (APDT), #77763 ; I am an AKC certified Canine Good Citizen evaluator (CGC), #71253

Publications ; ; Multiple articles in the local pet magazine Pet Press (found across Southern California)

I have a masters degree (MS) in Animals and Public Policy, with a minor in Animal Behavior, from Tufts Cummings School of Veterinary Medicine. I also have 3 years of graduate education in Animal Behavior and Learning from UM-Missoula and UL-Lafayette. I continue to educate myself to canine-specific behavior through extensive reading, online interactive workshops, vidoes and attending canine behavior conferences, workshops and seminars. Beginning in March, 2017, I will be the Behavior & Training Manager at Second Chance Center for Animals in Flagstaff, AZ.

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