Pet parents often ask me, “Why does my dog bow?” The answer is more complicated than you might think, as it often is with our wonderfully complex canine companions. Dog bows serve as building blocks of dog communication and also have a physiological function in the stretching referred to as pandiculation. The reason behind each bow depends on when the dog engages in the behavior. Let’s talk about this unique form of stretching first.
Pandiculation is a brain-reflex-action pattern in which many animals engage. The word originates from the Latin ‘pandere’, which means “to spread out” or “stretch oneself”. Next time your dog gets up from rest, watch what he does. Most often, he’ll put his front paws out and lengthen his back as he relaxes his belly. Then he may pandiculate in reverse, by contracting the anterior muscles into a flexed posture. This “wakes up” the muscular system, particularly the rear extensor muscles responsible for running. In a very real sense, this motion activates the connection between the brain and the muscles.
“A tired dog is a good dog!” You’ll hear it everywhere. Got a large, athletic dog with no job to do, except hang around the house? Get the dog tired and you’ll have a well-behaved, happy dog. A hard run before you leave for work, another when you get home, and the dog settles. Does this work? Does it have a down side?
A job for a dog needs to engage both brain and body. How does a dog think? We can’t entirely know the answer to that, but we know dogs have instincts that would help them survive in the wild. They also have drives that have been shaped by selective breeding to enhance talents that humans have desired. These include herding livestock, retrieving, indicating game in the field, searching by scent, chasing by sight, and other pursuits. Different terms are used for these behaviors, but basically they are “hard-wired” in the brain.
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