a dog wanting to play on leadIts all about the dog play bow, sometimes

Just as much as knowing which dogs are friendly and wanting to play with your dog, you need to look out for dogs that show body language that they are too anxious to play, or are just not that interested.

What is not dog play

  • When a dog is hiding or cowering
  • When dogs are showing signs of aggressive body language, not doing play bows or showing interest in other dogs (ie might be ball fixated)
  • When a dog yelps and runs away
  • When the dog movements are sharp and there is a tense stand-off

Why do dog bow before playing & DURING play?

It has been long known that before a dog may decide to play with another dog, that they may bow down onto their front paws. This is inviting the other dog to play. It may be followed up with a series of high pitched barks suggesting that the inviting dog is excited and it wants to have fun. It is done because the inviting dog is TRYING TO CHANGE the behavior of the recipient.

The initiator will have observed that the dog is a little tense, and it doesn’t want to have its motivations misinterpreted and end up in a fight.

So why would a dog, after playing with a dog for a while, play bow in the middle of a play?

After all it has initiated the play and been well received? Marc Bekoff (1995) is accredited with answering this tough dog question.

He noted that some forms of interaction such as (i.e. predatory, sexual, or agonistic) never include a play bow. Which is what you might expect, so then why does high energy play that can include bites (not drawing blood) with or without rapid side to side head shaking (as used in killing prey) often include a play bow in the middle of the play?

It was found that particularly when dogs are playing with skittish dogs, or dogs of equal physical strength, and they are raising the stakes of the play, that the play bow is a mechanism to release the tension. The recipient dog is being communicated to that even if quite rough play happens or has just happened, that this is still play, and any play bite, is still in the context of play, and not to get over heated.

The play bow in the middle of a high energy play clarifies to the other dog that regardless of what happens next, it is still play and that the initiated does not want to have a genuine fight.

The play bow was to show a continuation of play. In particular if a play bite has occurred the dog who performed the bite immediately before or after the bite (a questionable play tactic) performs the play bow, effectively saying ‘only kidding’.