The greeting stretch in dogs is something that you are likely very familiar with, but perhaps your didn't know that this behavior carried such a cute name.
Dogs use their bodies a whole lot to communicate with us, but we often fail to notice the slightest nuances in their behaviors. This causes us to miss a lot of communication pieces that can make a difference in now we relate to our dogs.
Now that you become more familiar about greeting stretches, you know more about what's going on your dog's mind and maybe you can even brag about it at the dog park!
Not Your Average Play Bow
Most of us are familiar with the quintessential play bow, the dog's universal invitation to play.
The typical play bow consists of the front legs being lowered, while the dog's rump is in the air. It is often accompanied by an open mouth (the typical play face) and a loose, flicking tail.
This expression signals an intent to play and friendliness, and is often accompanied by a little bark if the message isn't being clearly sent to the recipient. There is often lively anticipation as the dog quivers in expectation to engage in play.
Researchers have recently discovered that one of the main functions of a dog's play bow is to re-initiate play. More on this is covered here: research reveals what your dog's play bow really means.
A greeting stretch though is slightly different than you average play bow and, as the name implies, it carries a different meaning.
Not the Average Prey Bow
A greeting stretch is also different from the average prey bow. In the prey bow, the dog is ready to spring into action. It's as if the dog was saying "ready, set go!"
You may see a prey bow when the dog is getting ready to launch himself the moment you'll toss a Frisbee or when he spots some critter. The objective is for the dog to launch himself into chase.
In a prey bow, you'll notice the dog's body leaning backwards so to immediately spring forward, the tail is held up and the dog is fixated on the object of interest. The front of the body is lowered and you can notice the tension building up.
So What is a Greeting Stretch?
The first time I stumbled upon the term "greeting stretch" was when I was studying to become a certified dog trainer. Taking the test required a lot of knowledge so I made sure to read as many book on dogs as possible.
One of them was Brenda Aloff's wonderful book: "Canine Body Language, A Photographic Guide." In this book, Aloff describes a dog's greeting stretch as lowering of the body accompanied by relaxed ear carriage and squinty eyes.
In a typical greeting stretch, the dog's front legs are lowered together and stretched out in front of the dog, but the elbows typically remain off the ground.
The dog's nose and eyes are oriented towards the person the dog is greeting. The rump is in the air.
In some cases, the greeting stretch is followed by a rear leg stretch where the dog may stretch and perhaps even drag the rear legs behind him.
What Does a Greeting Stretch Mean?
The greeting stretch is performed while approaching and looking at the person at the receiving end.
If you are that "special person" consider yourself lucky as dogs dedicate greeting stretches only with people the dog likes and feels comfortable being with.
For this good reason, Brenda Aloff nicknames the greeting stretch as the "I love you stretch."
Aloff further compares a dog's greeting stretch to a child offering a tiny bouquet of flowers that were purposely picked up just for you. How sweet is that?
My Experience With Greeting Stretches
My female Rottweiler would perform a greeting stretch upon waking up from a nap. It's as if she missed her time with me and was eager to reengage.
As she performed the stretch with her two front legs stretched out evenly, I could swear that her nails were stretched out too! You can see this in the above picture.
When she did this, she would look at me and then right afterward, she would walk my way almost casually to greet me and solicit some pats.
I miss my Rottweiler's greeting stretches dearly now that 3 years have passed by since I lost her to an aggressive cancer. Does your dog do a greeting stretch? If so, cherish it and tell your dog that you love her too!
Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog. by Brenda Aloff.