When my Rhodesian Ridgeback greets me, she falls into a downward dog position. Downward dog is when a pup stretches out their front paws with weight bearing on their forearms with their chest off the ground. Their hind end is elevated into the air and often their tail is wagging. I have understood this is a popular yoga pose for humans, providing a full stretch to the spine, hamstrings and calf muscles while strengthening the arms. With knowledge of its purpose with people yoga, what is the purpose of a dog mimicking this position?
Pups tend to attain this position when they are happy. Your furry friend may do this when you come back home from being gone, or when you first wake up in the morning. They are excited their human is back in their presence. This is their way of saying “hello, I am so happy you are here.” However, you will not see a dog do this to a stranger as it is a behavior they only share with someone they are comfortable with and truly love.
Within their doggy-to-doggy world, this is the universal sign for “Let’s play”. This is true for dogs of all ages, sizes, breeds and social rankings. Dogs will also tend to grin as a playful expression. If a fellow dog is not familiar with this position, they may receive the gesture as a sign of aggression. If you do become concerned, look for continued “play bows” which means the activity is still enjoyable.
There are a few circumstances in which the downward dog position can be indicative of something not so fun. If your pup is exhibiting signs of pain with this position it could be that they are suffering from a bout of pancreatitis or back pain. This position may also be caused by something as minor as the presence of gas, or a more serious issue as in a gastrointestinal blockage. Monitor your pet’s mood and behavior while performing downward dog to decide if this is a time to be playful or a time to make a trip to the veterinarian.