Why Does My Dog Bow?

A play bow at any age is a dog’s attempt to engage in play with you or another dog or, sometimes, even a cat.


A play bow is one of many unique canine behaviors and gestures dogs use to communicate with each other and their humans. The classic play bow stance serves as an invitation from your pet to engage in playtime. The play bow is a distinctive posture that a dog assumes by lowering their front end while keeping their rear end raised and is often accompanied by tail wagging.

When observed during playtime, the play bow acts as a signal to other dogs, and humans, that your pet would like to engage in friendly, non-threatening, interactions. In the canine world, most communication between dogs occurs through body language, and play bowing is a prime example.

Interestingly, while many people like to compare dogs and wolves, researchers found that play bow is not used similarly by wolves. The study found that dogs use play bows after a brief pause in play while in an active play state, however, “While the relative number of play bows and total observation time was similar between dog and wolf puppies, wolves did not follow this behavioral pattern, as play bows were unsuccessful in eliciting further play activity by the partner. . . . It appears that play bows may function differently in wolf puppies.”

Engaging your dog in playful fun is a great bonding exercise for you and your dog. Throwing balls or discs can elicit the excited “play with me more!” play bow. Learning how your dog communicates can further enrich your relationship. Learn about other signs of happiness in your dog, which include play dance, excited barks, and of course happy tail wagging.

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Mary Cope, PhD, earned her Doctorate in Animal Nutrition from the University of Georgia in 2021 and has her Professional Animal Scientist (PAS) certification with a specialization in companion animals. Dr. Cope works as a companion animal nutritionist for a pet food consulting firm. Dr. Cope competes in a variety of AKC dog sports with her rescue dog and smooth Collie, including agility, Fast CAT, and herding.