I don't think there's anything cuter than dogs at play. The ubiquity of one piece of dog body language in particular has a great deal to tell us about what our dogs are thinking and feeling: the play bow. It's probably my very favorite thing to see any dog do, and yet, until I looked into it, even I was unaware of it's many and varied expressions. In today's blog, I'm going to review a few of them.
1. The "Classic"
This joyful pose tells other dogs, and us, 'Let's have a good time!" and "I'm ready for you!" In the classic expression of this particular piece of dog body language, look for the following physical markers: rear end up, ears perked up and alert, the mouth partly open with long, relaxed lips, a lowered tail, and elbows very nearly touching the ground. The eyes of the dog exhibiting the classic play bow generally follow the nose, which is often oriented on the desired playmate.
2. The Prey Bow
Here we see a few subtle differences in body language when compared to the classic prey bow. Like the classic, we have the ears and rear up, and the elbows very near or touching the ground entirely. The differences here lie in the tail, which is straight up, and the mouth, which is gently closed. This indicates an intention to pounce, and it means business!
3. The Calm Bow
Used by socially savvy dogs at play, this bow is used to say, "Hey, don't forget we're playing now!" or "Calm yourself, this is a game, remember?" We see this bow with dogs involved in many different kinds of interactions, like play or status determination. It's often used as a diffusing mechanism, often to stop conflict between dogs, or to safely take space from a dog who may be reluctant to give it up. You may see your dog diffusing a potential altercation between two others nose-to-nose over something with a classic play bow. It shows excellent communication skills, and should be celebrated. Especially if it works!
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Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, Decoding the Dog Park, and the Big Book of Dog Training.