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Why does my dog bow when playing?

Posted on May 18, 2015 at 5:30 PM Comments comments (29)

This position was adopted by dogs to signal that they want to play or continue playing. The posture is one of having the front end down and forelimbs splayed, while the rear remains elevated, and the tail is slowly wagging. At the same time, the dog’s ears are forward, its eyes appear relaxed and smiling, and its lips may be retracted in a sheepish grin. Excited barking sometimes accompanies this inviting posture.


The play bow is “universal” in the sense that all dogs (and even coyotes and wolves) do it. It is a genetically hard-wired behavior that requires little in the way of learning for its completion. Other species engage in behaviors that invite play, but none is as characteristic or unequivocal as the play bow. Though viewed as a composite by another dog, the various components of the play bow may transmit different messages. The fact that the dog’s head is lowered to the ground and its eyes are upwardly directed at the intended play partner is an invitation to come forward. That the dog’s rear end is elevated implies a lack of complete deference and provides a foundation from which to spring. The flagging tail signals interest and energy while the smiling face implies friendship. The whole gestalt is somewhat ambivalent—a form of body language humor, if you will. Now that’s something to smile about.


Originally published in AKC Family Dog.