The Play Bow: What It Means and Why Dogs Do It

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Do you ever watch your dog play bow and wonder what the heck is going on? What is with all of that bowing and leaping about?

It can seem pretty confusing, but there's actually a reason why dogs do this.

The play bow is a very important part of dog communication, and it means something different depending on the context.

In this blog post, we will discuss what the play bow means and why dogs do it!


What is a play bow


A play bow is a dog's way of communicating that they want to play. It is a very important part of dog body language, and it can mean different things depending on the context.

For example, if a dog bows with their tail wagging, it usually means that they are friendly and want to play.

However, if a dog bows with their hackles raised, it usually means that they are feeling threatened or aggressive. But it's also extremely rare that dogs are in the play bow position and are aggressive or defensive.


As it also turns out, there's some historical fact to the play bow that came from their ancestors, the wolves.

In one study done in 2016, Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere conducted a study of adult dogs play bowing.

She found out that when done, both dogs, the bower and bowee were often stationary before the bows, and highly active after.

"the fact that both bowers and partners were often stationary before play bows and highly active after them (in the form of synchronous interactions or runaway/chase dynamics) supports the hypothesis that bows most often functioned to reinitiate play after a pause"

- Byosiere et al

In a separate study involving hand-reared wolf puppies, it was also found that the wolf puppies did it with their peers too, during their playtimes.

It's suggested that this play bow is a signal to other dogs, stranger or not, that they're friendly and want to engage in fun, rather than fights.


So why do dogs do it?


Dogs use the play bow as a way to invite others to play.

It is often seen as a submissive gesture, but this isn't always the case. In many cases, the play bow is simply an invitation to have some fun!


Posture


Essentially, they look like they're bowing to you with their front paws with their bums up in the air (it's really cute.)

It's also usually accompanied by the cheekiest, most adorable face and occasionally a play bark (you'll know by it's higher pitch)



What does it mean for you?


If you see your dog play bow, it's a good idea to take them up on their offer and have some fun! Playtime is an important part of a dog's life, and it can be a great way to bond with your furry friend.


So, the next time you see your dog break out into a play bow, don't be confused - just join in on the fun!


Speaking your dog's (body) Language


By also responding to their play bow with our human play bow, we can also actually encourage them to be more playful and open.

This is especially great if you recently adopted a rescue dog and they're slowly decompressing from their former lives in the shelter.


Some fun ways to get your dog to play bow with you


- Fetch

- Tug of war

- Hide and seek

- Going for a walk or run together

- Ultimate level: Play bow to your dog, and watch them go wild!


Conclusion



The play bow is a dog's way of communicating that they want to play. It is an important part of dog body language, and it can mean different things depending on the context.

So, the next time you see your dog break out into a play bow, don't be confused - just join in on the fun!

And if you're looking for ways to bond with your furry friend, try some of the suggestions above.



References:

-Byosiere et al (2016) The function of social bows in dogs. Frontiers in Zoology (source)


about the author

Frank Harrigan

Frank loves tacos and dogs - the good, bad and ugly sides of dog ownership.


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