A play bow is a form of dog body language. It’s a way in which dogs communicate with people and other animals. Essentially, it's your dog's way of saying, "Let's play!"
If you've been around even just a few dogs in your life, you've probably witnessed the play bow. It's a posture that dogs of all ages, breeds, and sizes take when they want to have fun.
The play bow is when a dog stretches its front legs out in front, leaning down on its elbows. This brings the chest low to the ground as if the dog is about to lie down, but the rear end remains up in the air. Quite often, it's accompanied by a big doggie grin and maybe a little bark.
A play bow, as the name suggests, is a dog’s way of inviting another dog, animal, or human companion to play. It’s their way of letting you know that what they’re doing is just fun and games.
The play bow is an important part of the social interaction between dogs. When a dog meets another dog for the first time, he may use a play bow to let the other dog know his intentions are friendly. After this, dogs are likely to engage in play. Sometimes they'll bow when one dog gets tired of playing but the other wants to keep going.
Many dog behaviorists believe that this action is a way to signal that any actions they take after the bow is indeed friendly. After all, dog play can get a little rough at times, with lots of noise, body checks, ear nibbles, and the like. The bow takes any aggression out of the actions that follow.
If you’re unsure whether dogs are playful or about to start a fight, look for play bows. If you see both dogs with their chests to the ground and rear ends in the air, chances are they’re playing.
Speaking Dog Language
Dog owners can tap into their pet's natural communication by using a play bow themselves. It's a great way to get your pup excited about playtime and encourage healthy, regular exercise. You may think it makes you look foolish, but your dog will love it because you're literally speaking its language!
There are a couple of ways you can play bow to your dog. The most obvious one is to get down on all fours, stretch your arms in front of you, lean on your elbows, and stick your rear end in the air. This is a great way to grab a dog's attention in the house or on soft grass in the yard.
You can play bow from a standing position as well. This may be easier in certain circumstances and for some people, though it's also a little less obvious in public settings like parks. Simply drop your chest, bend at the hips, and spread your arms out. If you do a secondary action like run for a game of chase or throw a ball, your dog will easily get the hint.
The key to successfully pulling off a play bow, no matter how you do it, is to be quick and swift in your motions. Watch your dog next time it bows and you'll notice sharp movements, little hops, and a lot of excitement. The better you can mimic this, the clearer your "let's play" message will be.
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Byosiere, Sarah-Elizabeth et al. Investigating the Function of Play Bows in Dog and Wolf Puppies (Canis lupus familiaris, Canis lupus occidentalis). PloS one , vol. 11, no. 12, 2016. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0168570