Investigating the function of play bows in adult pet dogs (Canis lupus familiaris) Academic Article uri icon


  • Play bows are a common, highly stereotyped canine behavior widely considered to be a 'play signal,' but only one study has researched their function. Bekoff (1995) found that play bows function as behavioral modifiers to help clarify playful intent before or after easily misinterpretable behaviors, such as bite-shakes. To further examine the function of play bows, the current study analyzed five types of behaviors displayed by the bower and the partner immediately before and after a play bow during dyadic play. We found that play bows most often occurred after a brief pause in play. Synchronous behaviors by the bower and the partner, or vulnerable/escape behaviors by the bower (such as running away) and complementary offensive behaviors by the partner (such as chasing) occurred most often after the play bow. These results indicate that during adult dog dyadic play, play bows function to reinitiate play after a pause rather than to mediate offensive or ambiguous actions.

publication date

  • 2016