You might not understand exactly what he's saying, but your puppy is a master at expressing himself when he wants or needs something. He'll bark, howl, yip and whine, sometimes incessantly, to try and get his point across. Making a lot of noise isn't the only way he communicates, however, and he instinctively uses body language to make himself clear. Bowing is a form of body language that can have several meanings.
When a trainer or behaviorist talks about "the bow" or "bowing," they're not talking about the partner of the curtsy or the action an actor takes at the end of a play. A puppy's bow is when he lowers his front legs straight out in front of him, or rests on his elbows and lifts his hind end in the air. This position is the equivalent of yoga's downward dog. Depending on what he's communicating or how excited he is, your puppy may lower his jaw nearly to the floor, or he may give only a cursory bow by dipping his head and raising his hindquarters.
Invitation to Play
The most common reason for the bow is an invitation to play. This type of bow is often accompanied by a quick tap of the front feet against the floor and a fast wagging tail. Depending on his level of excitement, your puppy may perform the move several times in a row, with a toy in his mouth or while looking toward the place where he wants to play. A request to play looks different from other bows because your puppy will appear excited and eager, doing everything he can to get your attention.
When your puppy is in trouble and you have yelled at, disciplined or somehow let him know you're unhappy with his behavior, he may drop into the bow position as a sort of apology. This bow is not nearly as enthusiastic as the request to play, and your puppy will probably not look directly at you. It's his way of showing you that he wants to be back into your good graces.
There are several ways puppies show submission, including a low, calm bow. Your puppy isn't likely to initiate interaction with this bow, but instead respond to your approach with it. This is his way of letting you know that he recognizes that you're in charge and he's not going to challenge your authority or try to assert dominance. A submission bow is usually done slowly, with his head bowed or looking away from you, and with calm body language. His tail may even be tucked between his legs in submission.
By Carlye Jones
About the Author
Carlye Jones is a journalist, writer, photographer, novelist and artisan jeweler with more than 20 years of experience. She enjoys sharing her expertise on home improvements, photography, crafting, business and travel. Her work has appeared both in print and on numerous websites.