I am constantly learning everyday about pet behavior, body language, and communication by interacting with the animals I care for. One behavior I started noticing with the dogs I work with within the last year is them "bowing to me". At first when I saw "Friday" a Heeler/Malamute, "Special Needs Behavioral" dog I care for do it, I thought he was just stretching. Then I notice he does it every time I walk into the house. It got me wondering, and I let it sit in the back of my mind. Then I noticed it this week when I would get the leash to take "Murphy" a Standard Poodle, out for a walk he was doing the same bow. I decided it was time to look into this behavior and body language to further understand what these dog were trying to communicate to me & why.
Upon looking into it I found that this dog behavior is called the "Play Bow" (back-end in the air with head and paws lowered to the ground). This behavior is also seen in wolves & coyotes and is a powerful social tool among all dogs. It communicates that their intentions are friendly and that they are ready for a rousing round of chasing and romping. The position is non-threatening as the head is extremely low.
This signal is extremely important because so much of dog play consists of aggressive behaviors and dominant postures. The play bow tells a dog's playmate, "Anything that comes after this is play, so please don't take it seriously."
The play-bow probably evolved out of a submissive crouch, but the signal has become an unmistakable way to indicate a desire to play, no matter where the dog is in the social hierarchy. A more dominant dog may even allow himself to be chased in the interest of fun, may encourage play by lying down and allowing a subordinate dog to "attack" him.
However, it is interesting to note that dominant dogs are not as successful in soliciting play. A general sense of aloofness may be part of the reason. Or perhaps they come across as insincere when they invite another dog to play.
Under-socialized dogs may not understand the play-bow, or know that all actions following the bow are meant in fun. Instead they may feel threatened and may bite. Fortunately, most dogs do understand dog diplomacy.
I was extremely happy to learn this information because that "play-bow" is powerful stuff! It means the dogs are happy to see me & associate me with having fun! As an added bonus my "behavioral issue" dogs like "Friday" also understand hierarchy and respect me.
Shannon Cole owns "Shannon's Pet Sitting" in Chicago's NW Suburbs an in-home, bonded, insured, Better Business Bureau Accredited pet care service specializing in pets w/ behavioral problems, medical needs & senior pets.