How do dogs invite play? The answer relies on the fact that both humans and dogs remain playful all their lives into adulthood. The play-bow is a vital part of a companion dog’s behaviour. When a dog wants to play they have to make sure that they do not signal that they want to fight. in other words, it has to be clear to the recipient dog that the dog doing the play-bow only intends to play. So it is a signal, a special play-invitation display from one dog to another.
There are many pictures of this form of canine display in which the dog lowers the front half of its body while keeping its rear end raised. The front legs are in a sitting sphinx position so that it’s chest touches almost touches the ground while the hind legs are fully stretched vertically. The dog stares intently while in this position, at its companion making, making small jerky movements to encourage the recipient to join in play. It is if the desired signal is, “Let’s go, let’s go!”
It had been thought that the canine play-bow is a modified stretching movement and it does look like that. However, the more likely explanation is that it is a frozen movement with the clear intention to signal that they are ready to leap into action and play. The position is a bit like a 100 meter sprinter about to start the Olympic final. They are ready for the off and it is simply a question as to whether the opposite number agrees, and they probably will. It is probably a bit contagious like the yawn.