How Dogs Initiate Play: Descriptions & Video Examples of Play Behaviors

Mary Huntsberry
Apr 4, 2020 · 2 min read

How do dogs initiate intraspecies play? Just about everyone knows and can recognize a play bow, but that’s not the only signal dogs use to solicit play. Below are descriptions with video of behaviors dogs use to initiate social play with another dog. Definitions summarized from Bekoff (1974). While watching the videos notice that these behaviors can occur together in random succession or alone as isolated behaviors.

Play Bow: The soliciting dog crouches on its forelegs with hind-end elevated. From here the dog can leap, dodge, and spring back-and-forth easily.

Approach/withdrawal: After approaching the prospective play mate, the soliciting dog withdrawals in one of a number ways. To name a few, a dog can step away slowly or run a few meters away only to return again. Sometimes the soliciting dog approaches, stops, and then rocks back in one spot looking as though it might take off.

In this clip Louie is trying to initiate play with my Shih Tzu, Cricket. As you can see, the 8 year old Cricket is too sophisticated to play with the young kids. Scarlett still wants to play!

General Movements: Movements of the head and eyes including head-tossing and eye-rolling directed toward the playmate. The soliciting dog may sway its shoulders or stalk its playmate in an exaggerated manner. Circling of the prospective playmate is also possible.

In this clip Mugsy is trying so hard to get Cricket to play with him. He is showing just about every play solicitation possible. Note the head-tossing and exaggerated sway in his shoulders. Everything about Mugsy is begging Cricket to chase him. Unfortunately Cricket is not having it….poor Mug-a-roo.

Face-pawing: Scarlett does this all the time. As the name implies, face-pawing is an extension of one of the forelimbs toward the face of the potential playmate. When done at a distance, this is termed “paw intention.”

Leap-leap: Two sequential leaps in the air where the forelimbs are lifted off the ground and land simultaneously.

This video is in slow-mo so you can see the leaps!

Barking: Since she IS a Sheltie, it is no surprise the Scarlett barks to initiate play. In this clip she is actually soliciting play from Louie who is off camera.

Exaggerated Approach: The dog soliciting play approaches its potential play mate with a loose and bouncy gate. Speed of approach is faster than that observed during normal walking.

Or your dog can do what Dr. Jennifer Rommel’s dog Louie did in the video below and goose his playmate while she’s not looking. Too funny!

Helping Pets Behave

A scientific approach to solving behavior problems

Helping Pets Behave

Mary Huntsberry, MA is an Assoc. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Fear Free Certified Professional based in Gaithersburg, MD. https://helpingpetsbehave.com

Mary Huntsberry

Written by

An Associate Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Fear Free Certified Professional helping people and their pets through tough times.

Helping Pets Behave

Mary Huntsberry, MA is an Assoc. Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist and Fear Free Certified Professional based in Gaithersburg, MD. https://helpingpetsbehave.com

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