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A happy dog plops down with his front legs extended, his shoulders and chest low to the ground, and his rear end pushed up in the air, in what looks like a bow. This is the universal “let’s play” sign for dogs of all sizes, ages, breeds and social rankings.
One of the most delightful canine postures is the play bow. As its name implies, this is the official come-play-with-me invitation in the canine world.
Some dogs add a play smile to this pose by pulling their lips back horizontally, but they do not bare their teeth, which could be mistaken for a sign of aggression.
The beauty of the play bow is that 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.
Dogs have a keen sense of humor and are always up for a playful romp with their favorite canine pals. In true play mode, dogs may play rough, but they do their best to communicate actions that are anything but threatening. Dogs may switch off making play bows, or one will immediately go into a play-bow posture after accidentally body slamming his playmate too roughly. In this case, the play bow is used to say, “Oops, I’m sorry. Let’s keep playing.”
Sometimes as part of the mating ritual, a dog will initially assume the play-bow position to communicate a friendly gesture. A male may make play bows to win over an aloof female in heat.
Dogs who lack proper socialization may not know how to respond to another dog’s play-bow invitation. They may feel threatened and growl in fear. If your dog has this problem, work with a professional dog trainer to improve this dog’s social skills.
You can get your dog in a playful mood by plopping into a play bow yourself. Sport your goofiest expression, unleash some happy talk, and watch your dog shift from bored to elated in nanoseconds. You can also get down on the floor and whisper to your dog — this is thought of as the canine equivalent to human laughter.
Purposeful play is important to your dog’s overall well-being. When he offers you a play bow, treat him — and yourself — to five minutes of playful interaction. Take a break from your “must-do” list and revel in the moment with your canine chum. Pick an activity he really craves, such as fetch, tug-of-war, or racing back and forth in the backyard together.
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