The Secret of the Dog Bow

The Secret of the Dog Bow

Dog Playing

Have you ever wondered, "Why does my dog bow sometimes?" The answer is more complicated than you might think!

Dog bows serve as building blocks of dog communication and also have a physiological function in the stretching referred to as pandiculation. The reason behind each bow depends on when the dog engages in the behavior. Let’s talk about this unique form of stretching first.

Why do dogs bow?

  • Dog bowing is most commonly expressed with what we refer to as the ‘play bow’. This common posture serves as a cornerstone of dog communication. Most often, it functions as an expression of ‘let's play!”
  • It can signal an apologetic tone, such as, "Oops, I didn't mean to bite so hard. I wasn't trying to hurt you. Let's keep playing!”
  • When two dogs meet for the first time, they may initiate interaction with play bows as a way of making friends.
  • Sometimes as part of the mating ritual, canines will initially assume the play-bow position to communicate amorous intent.
  • Dog bowing or stretching in the morning “wakes up” the muscular system, activating the connection between the brain and the muscles. 

Want to try something fun? Try doing your own version of the play bow to your dog, and watch your pup go from serious to goofball in a heartbeat. Use a silly voice, plop down and invite your dog to play - you will likely be delighted at your dog’s response!

If your dog invites you to play with a bow, accept the invitation! Chances are that you’ll boost her well-being, as well as yours, by simply engaging in purposeful play for only five minutes. It’s a great way to take a break from the day and begin a game of tug of war, tag or fetch.

Remember: if dogs are not properly socialized, they may not know how to respond to another dog’s play-bow invitation. Rather than responding in-kind, they may feel threatened and growl fearfully. If you witness any fearful or aggressive reactions, I recommend working with a professional dog trainer.


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