What’s a play bow?

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The play bow is when a dog lowers the front part of its body to the ground with his paws somewhat extended. It’s also a yoga pose for humans and there are even some classes where humans can bring their dogs.

It may look like the dog is stretching, but you’ll also notice that the dog’s tail is wagging from side to side, and he might bark. The dog’s ears will usually be up, and the dog may also exhibit a play-smile, where the lips are pulled back horizontally—but there’s no baring of teeth. When this happens, you might also be able to see the dog’s tongue.

Play bow tends to be used most often among puppies and very active dogs, but it’s a canine diplomatic protocol that most dogs understand. When a dog invites another dog to play, the dogs bow and what follows – chasing, light nipping and lunging – is done only in fun. Each dog understands it should not be taken seriously.

While it probably began as a submissive crouch, 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 itself to be chased in the interest of fun, encouraging play by lying down and allowing a subordinate dog to “attack.”

Don’t think that the position is just for dogs– a dog will frequently get into the play bow position to invite a human to play with them. Take the opportunity to run and chase each other and have a great time.

Sometimes a dog is a little “mouthy” and doesn’t know its own strength. If that’s the case, respond to the play-bow invitation with lower-contact games like fetch or Frisbee. If you don’t mind getting down on the ground, you can even mimic the play-bow position yourself, and the dog will get really excited. Most likely, you’ll both end up having a lot of fun!

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