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Submission and Appeasement

Submission postures are body positions that a submissive animal uses to acknowledge a dominant animal and ward off aggression. The submission conveys the message, "OK, you're bigger. I am no threat to you." Dogs (as well as humans) cringe and cower as symbols of submission. When dogs fight, the fight always ends the same way: the loser turns over on its back to signal submission. We once had a little dog (a Jack Russell terrier) that did not wait for a fight; whenever it met another dog, it flipped over on its back right away. The gesture worked; it never had to fight.

What is the function of a submission posture? What are similar human gestures?

Submission postures often involve exposing a vulnerable part of the body such as the neck. A supplicant bowing before a king illustrates a submission posture. In the kneeling position, a person is vulnerable to being struck on the neck or back of the head. The "kowtow" of medieval China was an extreme example; visitors to the emperor literally threw themselves to the ground, touching it with their foreheads. Bowing remains a gesture of respect in many countries today, and to a Muslim, touching the forehead to the ground is a way of showing respect to Allah.

What is an appeasement display? How are such displays infantilized?

Submission postures are called appeasement displays if used to appease (lessen the anger of) an aggressive animal. One striking characteristic of animal and human appeasement strategies is infantilization. Cowering, whining, crying, begging, and nervous laughter-all are responses that partially mimic the behavior of children. All can make an aggressive animal decide not to attack.

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