The Bow! Why?

Have you ever asked why does my dog bow? There are a couple of answers to that age old question. Dog bows serve as building blocks of dog communication and also have a physiological function in a stretch called pandiculation. The purpose of the bow depends on when the dog engages in the behavior.

One function of the dog bow is called the ‘play bow’. This common posture, a building block of dog communication, can mean ‘Let’s play!” or it can also be a sign of an apology. It can be a dog’s way of saying: “I didn’t mean to bite so hard. Let’s keep playing. I wasn’t trying to be mean.”

With a play bow, social hierarchy is not a factor. Dominant dogs can offer play bows to lower-ranked dogs and vice versa. When two dogs meet for the first time, they may get into play bows as a way of making friends. Sometimes as part of the mating ritual, a dog will initially assume the play-bow position to communicate a friendly gesture. A male dog may make play bows to win over an aloof female in heat.

Want to try something fun? Try doing the play bow to your dog, and watch your dog go from serious to goofball in a millisecond. Use a silly voice, get down on your hands and knees and invite your dog to play – just wait – your dog will give you a hilarious response.

Be mindful that if a dog has not been properly socialized, he or she may not know how to respond to another dog’s play-bow invitation. He or she may feel threatened and growl fearfully. If your dog has this problem, I recommend working with a professional dog trainer to reduce your dog’s fear.

If your dog invites you to play with a play bow, then stop and play! You can boost your well being and that of your dog by stopping what you are doing and playing purposefully with your dog for 5 minutes. Take a break and treat yourself and your dog to a game of tug of war, tag, or fetch.

Pandiculation is a brain reflex action pattern that animals do and is another function of the play bow. The word originates from the Latin ‘pandere’ which means “to spread out” or “stretch oneself”. Next time your dog gets up from rest, watch what he does; he’ll put his front paws out and lengthen his back as he relaxes his belly. Then he may pandiculate in reverse, by contracting the anterior muscles into a flexed posture. This “wakes up” the muscular system, particularly the extensor muscles in the back responsible for running, at the level of the brain, so that the brain is always in control of the muscles.

Stretching and yawning open awakening is one healthy habit that we could relearn from our companion animals. Remember when you used to do that? You’d wake up, gently tighten your arms and legs, feel a yawn coming on, and then reach your arms above your head, then reach one leg down and then the other. You would first contract your muscles, then lengthen them, then completely relax. Try it again, some morning. Your body will thank you.