How does a dog extend an invitation to play to another dog?

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It’s not uncommon to see a small dog go up to a big, mean-looking dog. You’re sure the big dog will get annoyed, but they suddenly both start playing and having a great time together!

This is because the small dog most likely extended an invitation to play, using the posture of “play bow.” This is where the front legs are out, the chest is to the ground, the butt is up and it almost looks like a stretch. However, you will know that this is not a stretch because the dog will probably bark and open his mouth. You can see the tongue, but the teeth aren’t bared. Play bow is a dog’s way of saying that what they’re doing is all 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, dog-friendly dogs are likely to engage in play.

Sometimes dog play can get a little rough, and include a lot of noise and body checks. If you’re unsure whether dogs are playful or about to start a fight, look for play bows to indicate friendliness. If you see both dogs with their chests to the ground and rear ends in the air, chances are they’re playing; but, if you even think you might see some signs of aggression, don’t hesitate to separate them immediately.

You also need to know that sometimes an under-socialized dog may not understand the play-bow, or realize that all actions following the bow are meant in fun. Instead, the dog may feel threatened and could bite. It’s also important to remember that a dog can become over-excited; when this happens, friendly play can quickly turn into aggressive behavior.

Most dogs do understand this form of diplomacy, but if you are not sure about your dog, observe his overall body language. It’s also a good idea to be sure your dog is obedience-trained before it starts engaging in the posture.

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