Our good friend Debby G came to visit recently, with a report on how her dog Monty was doing. Monty was found on a porch a year ago spring, starving and close to death. Here’s a photo of the poor thing soon after he was found.
Not surprisingly, although physically healthy now, Monty has a lot of fears, including even the sight of another dog. The good news is that Debby is a dedicated dog owner, and that she has a great team of trainers helping her. Her primary goal is to walk Monty down the street without him freaking out every time he sees another dog. They are making good progress, walking in parallel with one of those worth-his-weight-in-gold Goldendoodles who is stable, unreactive and probably hoarding dog food to deliver to rescue organizations if he could just get a hold of the car keys. I had only a few thoughts to add to the treatment plan, and one of them was teaching a play bow. As I said in a 3/19 post about working with fearful dogs:
It’s hard to be fearful when you’re playing, and that’s true for both people and dogs. One of my favorite cues to teach nervous dogs is to Take a Bow . . . “bowing” is a play solicitation gesture to dogs, and it’s hard to be nervous and playful at the same time.
Monty reminded me that my absolute, all-time favorite trick to teach ANY dog is a play bow. I’m not actually sure why we call it a trick, since it’s no different than a sit or down–we simply put something that dogs do anyway on cue, right? Sit and down themselves are interesting, in that they ask a dog, in some ways, to squelch it’s forward movement, to pause, to contain itself. They are great ways to get a dog’s attention, and, let’s be honest, to get him under control.
But a play bow? Ah, hello fun! The dog may move down and backwards, but the move is friendly, relaxed, and an invitation for lots of action in the near future. Putting a play bow on cue has so many benefits that if I were queen I’d decree it be a part of every dog training class in the universe. (Is it in yours?)
The benefits of putting a play bow on cue are many:
THEY RELAX NERVOUS DOGS As I mentioned earlier, asking a dog to do a play bow automatically leads to relaxation. I taught Willie to play bow on cue, and used it when we were working on his response to unfamiliar dogs. Not only was it successful in that context, but after a while he began doing it on his own when he was beginning to feel stressed. At least that was my strong impression. Besides being an action integrally involved in play, a play bow also asks the dog to stretch and relax his muscles, which leads to another one of its benefits:
IT’S GOOD FOR YOUR DOG’S BODY Dr. Chris Zink (PhD, DVM and goddess of canine sports medicine) writes and speaks often about the importance of stretching out a dog’s muscles before exercise. A play bow is a great way to do that. In “The power of the trick” she describes a range of exercises we can do to keep our dogs healthy, starting with a play bow before any physical activity. Dr. Zinke knows more than any one I know about canine physiology, structure and health, and if she says we should be asking our dogs to play bow before exercise, we would do well to pay attention. In her fantastic seminar at APDT in October, 2017, she explained that the vast majority of sports injuries are soft tissue injuries from over use, not from a specific incident, and are often undetected by both owner and GP veterinarian. Stretching can do a lot to prevent that kind of progressive injury.
ITS THE PERFECT “INCOMPATIBLE BEHAVIOR” Is your dog doing something you’d rather she didn’t? Barking out the window when another dog walks by? Scratching at the door to go outside? One of the best ways to deal with an unwelcome behavior is to teach the dog a different response to the trigger stimulus. See another dog out the window? Then do a play bow and good things will happen. Want to tell me you need to go potty? How about a play bow instead of etching into the door frame? Just be careful not to let it “say” too many things–be thoughtful about how you want your dog to use it to communicate with you.
IT MAKES US HAPPY Do you, or do you not smile when your dog does a play bow, even if just in your heart. Well, that’s enough right there, right?
If I wasn’t so happily busy training Maggie to run in Open, tending my ever expanding garden, and cooking things I probably shouldn’t (I’m talking to you, apple galette.) I’d have made a brilliant video for you illustrating how to teach a play bow. Ah, but I am, and I didn’t. Here’s one from Kikopup, my favorite source of training videos:
And if you have a dog who insists on lying down–here’s one on teaching a bow from a down:
And by the way, here’s Monty now… lucky boy, hey?
What’s your favorite trick? Or top three? Is a play bow in your class repertoire? We’d all love to hear.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We had over 7 inches of rain in three days last week. Good grief. But at least it wasn’t 12+ inches in 12 hours like we had a year ago August. There is some minor flooding, but nothing like we had last year, and nothing, of course, like the poor citizens of the Bahamas and parts of the Southeast coast of the U.S. My garden is beginning to look like an experiment on “how many plant diseases can one accumulate relating to wet ground and too much moisture”? But there’s still lots of color, including in these late blooming day lilies. But that’s not all that’s alive in this photo. Look closely.
Maggie, Jim and I had great fun on Sunday at friend Jennifer B’s in northern Illinois. Maggie got to work sheep in a new environment, I got some good coaching from far-more-experienced Jennifer, and Tootsie had a lovely time exploring the gardens and meeting new dogs, including this friendly guy here.
Pea soup fog this morning on the way to the office. I snapped this on the way, but didn’t want to stay long by the side of the road, the fog was thick enough it felt dangerous. I like the dreamy quality of this, especially after I changed it to black and white.
That’s it for this week, be sure to chime in with your favorite tricks and when/why you use them.
That photo of the starving dog breaks my heart
Vicki in Michigan says
I never thought of teaching a play bow. What a great idea. Thank you. 🙂
Olive has a reoccurring soft-tissue injury in her right shoulder, so we have been doing bows all over the place. She’s on leash outside for now (again), and we do a gentle version of bow, find it, and “through” (she goes between my two legs in a modified figure eight) in the yard. I also ask for two paws and a stand so she is standing on her hind legs and I am holding her two front paws and ever-so-gently pulling a little tiny bit on that right leg. I had taught her stop-drop-and-roll, but after her knee injury, and given her relatively poor joints, we discontinued that trick (but it was so darn cute).
Olive does a nice bow after eating (originally taught, now voluntary) and before we start tricks. We have a lengthy trick repertoire that works for both dogs’ mental and physical exercises that we do after breakfast and dinner. Hard to pick three favorites, but I’d have to say: “two paws”—they are in a sit and lift up both front paws to then do a shake; “focus”—they stare directly at me, and “twirl”—they circle all the way around a few times and a left or right gesture gets them to twirl in the opposite direction.
I started learning and teaching all these tricks when we got Phoebe as a way to get and keep her attention. It was a nice segue from trick training to come, lie down, out, etc. She realized she could learn, get rewarded, and nothing bad happened when she listened and closely interacted with a person. In fact, it was fun! It opened up a whole new world for us (and subsequently Olive).
The first picture made me gasp and the last picture made me sigh with delight!
I love you blog. So many things I do or teach because instinctively it feels right and then you post a blog about all the reasons what I’m teaching or doing is good for my dogs. Ranger and Finna both knew how to do a play bow on cue and I encouraged it as part of their daily routines. Finna actually taught herself to get up from napping on the futon with a play bow and yes it would always melt my heart a bit to see that comfortable stretch. Now that I actually know why it’s such a good thing for the dog to do you can be certain that any future dogs will learn it.
Seems to me your instincts have always been great!
Two paws sounds like great core training. Maggie does a down/up exercise where her paws don’t move and she goes from a lie down to a stand up without shifting her paws. Clearly is hard work, she gets tired around #15 often, so we pause and then continue for a total of 25 or 30.
And look how great he looks now!
Kate Sawyer says
I have a fearful Aussie and when he reacts to other dogs, one of my tricks is to ask him to target my hand, first low, but then high above his head. He loves leaping into the air and if he’s not already beyond his tolerance threshold, the cue to leap up always gets his focus off the other dogs. He knows how to play bow and always does a really great stretch when he’s asked to bow. I’ve never tried incorporating it into his training for relaxing around other dogs, but I will now! I can’t wait to try it out tonight during training. Thanks for the tip!
Love the leap to touch your hand! A perfect in compatible behavior in that context.
Irene McHugh says
Teaching the play bow just moved up my list! I’ve been having fun with my two Labradoodles teaching them to jump through a hoop. My smaller Doodle girl loves to race back and forth, which I’ve found is a great way to tucker her out on days when she’s bursting with energy. My guy Bernie has been perfecting his wave. We were practicing at the park the other day and other dog owners were watching from a distance with the “ohhh how cute” face.
Glad to see Monty looking much better. Never tried to teach a play bow, but current dogs play-bow prolifically to communicate with dogs or people. Older dog has a backyard routine where we trade rapid-fire play bows, she lies down for a belly rub, and then I gently tap her belly and do a squeaky-voiced “bwoooo!” which sends her racing in circles. Not really something I trained, just a game that evolved.
Current favorite tricks are “roll over”, “up” and “touch” (the hand). “Roll over” is particularly valuable when we meet someone who is not totally comfortable around dogs. Red Dog loves the trick, and will happily perform it for anyone holding a treat. Small children seem to get a particular kick out of “commanding” a formerly scary dog to do something silly. Perhaps it gives them power over their fears.
Red Dog also loves “touch” (the hand) – between the legs, high in the air – and I have trained her to expect an extra kibble or three after meals. Hmm, maybe she trained me. Anyway, impressive leaping ability and fun for all.
“Up” (jump up onto something) can be used to gain a couch companion, provide fun and mental stimulation during walks, and get the dog to pose in unlikely places when I’m taking pictures.
Previous dogs knew the “balance a treat on the nose” trick which was very popular, although some found the lightning-fast snapping of treats out of the air to be unsettling.
Diane Mattson says
Thank you. Going to teach Bridget this, as she can get nervous around very small dogs. Any sign of aggression at all in small dogs can send her into a melted puddle, and an attempt to flee, while still in puddle position. She absolutely adores big dogs, however.
She’s gotten more confident, though. The other day, she was very politely sniffing noses and waving her tail at a tiny scrap of a dog. The dog seemed friendly in return, and then suddenly launched an attack on Bridget. We extricated Bridget away from the little menace, and instead of freaking, Bridget just seemed disdainful of the poor manners displayed. No melting or panicking, just a “Really, that’s all you’ve got?” Was very proud of her. 😊
I think teaching her a play bow would be great aid for her.
Loved to hear about Monty’s happy ending.
That Monty is a lucky boy – all the best to Monty and his human as they continue on their journey.
My dog Colby loves to mark the area around where she eliminates (“Look what I just did!”). Because I think it’s rude to let my dog scratch up the neighbors’ lawns, I thought it would be fun if she learned to take a bow after she finishes – which would also help keep her feet fairly still and the lawn intact. We’ve been at this for three years. I wish I could say it’s automatic, but I still have to issue the signal every single time. What has become automatic, though, is that she usually leaps off the terrace area when she finishes and looks at me waiting for the cue. I’m happy with that, and it makes me laugh every time she takes that bow.
I never think about using the play bow as a stretching exercise, but I’m going to add that in before her daily walks and dog park runs. We’re going to add that down/up exercise as well (starting slowly). Maybe Colby and I can do our squats together.
Sophy taught herself to say “Please” – a very beautiful Down with fluttering papillon ears and tail and, if necessary, head cocked very cutely to one side while making laser focussed eye contact with the target human. Most people melt before she gets as far as the head tilt, though. And I discovered the power of doing a play bow myself when in that stage of puppy-training when fitting in happy social experiences, on the hour toilet trips, teaching good manners and not reinforcing bad ones, avoiding land shark teeth, etc, etc feel so serious and overwhelming that it is all too easy to forget to just play and have fun. I got down on the floor in a rather clumsy play bow, and my puppy was overjoyed – at last a cue she understood immediately and could respond to without effort!
I live in a very multicultural area where a lot of people are scared of dogs. (Had a young mother push a pram across the street and go through very long grass to avoid my on-leash Shih tzu!). So, I like to teach all dogs, but especially the bigger breeds and any with a ‘reputation’, to high five which puts a lot of people at ease seeing this trick and knowing the dog’s guardian has them under control. I also suggest if a big dog likes to carry a soft toy in their mouth when out on a walk let them – who could be scared of a Rottweiler carrying its favourite stuffy in public? Just as long as it’s not one of those fabulous pull apart postmen or politician Velcro toys!
Jennifer K says
Love this! Kuddos to my trainer for including the play bow in her intermediate group class curriculum and utilizing lots of Kikopup videos for homework. My two rescue dogs have learned many tricks which I have thought to be mostly for fun, focus, coordination and mental enrichment. I like the idea of using them for stretching too! With my fearful GSD mix, I usr Touch a lot to help him turn his attention to me. Spin works to help him break focus on the other dog. Throwing a treat in the air for him to catch (with the cue Catch) is nearly irresistible to him, except maybe when a squirrel is two feet away!
Definitely in our repertoire! I started teaching Georgie tricks when we first adopted her and still lived in the city—a rescue from the rural south, she was *very* uncomfortable on noisy city streets, and tricks helped both distract her and build her confidence.
She’s turned out to be an incredibly great learner and easy trainee and knows loads of tricks now. I joke that “Bow down!” (as we cue it) is a trick that came “hard-coded” in her, because I didn’t really need to teach it—she just immediately did it when I did the bowing gesture to her. (I suppose it’s possible she was taught it in her previous life…but given that she was an ovebred baby mama dumped at a shelter with her last litter, I don’t get the sense tricks training was a priority for her previous owners…)
I love the idea of using it as a pre- (And post-) exercise stretch!! Georgie’s a very active dog and loves to hike, and now that we live in the country she gets to do it daily. Don’t know why it’s never occurred to me to include deliberate stretching into her regimen (as it is in mine!)…
Beautiful picture of a foggy morning.
We’ve had so much to do the first year together and we started agility so not much time for tricks but Johnny knows “walk back”, and sit pretty I should add the sit pretty was for his one year birthday pic so sit pretty on a tall stool WITH party hat. Lol
I will teach him now another great exercise.
Oooh, perhaps I should try to teach this to my new boy Benjamin, who can sometime be nervous meeting new dogs… I have noticed that quite often he will do this anyway, I think sometimes when he is on the lead and meeting another slightly scary dog that is off the lead and comes right over. So he goes into ‘silly billy’ mode and play-bows, presumably to show the other dog that he is not after a confrontation… However, if the scary dog is a bit away he will often bark furiously, so perhaps that’s where teaching the play-bow on command might be handy? I just don’t quite trust my training abilities… well, I can give it a go!
JOAN L LINDBERG says
This reminds me so much of my Duchess. She was my first adoption from a rescue, which wasn’t even an official group at the time. I purchased my “foundation” collie, Sunny in February 1998. He was an only dog and I worked full time. As he went thru his youth, he seemed to get more and more melancholy and there is nothing sadder than a melancholy collie. So I found Duchess in 2001. She was about a year younger and more playful than Sunny. Sunny never did know what a play bow was. When he first tried one, I told people that he looked like Al Gore trying to be playful (it was around an election time). But Duchess eventually got Sunny to do a perfect play bow. In short order, I took in two more foster collies and in the 12+ years I had Duchess, there were dozens that came through our home. Duchess taught every one of them to play bow. All of the collies (and mixes) that I’ve known have been special to me, but my sweet Duchess opened the flood gates for me. She was my “Cyndi Lauper collie”…you know…”Girls Just Want to Have Fun”.
I taught my dog to do a play bow to indicate he’d found the object in a nose games class. Since each time he knew he’d gotten it right, he would be utterly delighted with himself, I got to see an adorable play bow augmented with the most rapidly wagging fanny and whipping tail. It’s really very cute.
“Find it” is among my top favorite tricks–and the bonus play bow at the end of each successful search is the icing on the cake.
Taught Echo to bow to the cue “konnichiwa” to delight our Japanese friend’s elderly mother. (Taught by capturing.)
Hadn’t thought of teaching it in my classes, but perhaps I should.
For the life of me, I cannot find the ‘other life’ in the flower photo!
Gale Marple says
I Love that you recommend Kikopup! I discovered her in about 2011. You and she are the trainers I recommend most. My chihuahua/rat terrier, Star, is afraid of the clicker, I guess I need to get her over that before I can teach the play bow. She is aftaid of other dogs we meet while on leashed walks. Gets snarly and agressive, then the other dog attacks her. Terrible experience for all. I’ve been trying to pick her up, but dont seem to get it done in time. 😖
Susan Tyson says
Of course my dogs all do play bow! Dogs and audiences love it!
It’s a tree frog! See it now?
Melanie Hawkes says
My favourite trick is Bang, or play dead. I just started capturing it while making dinner as he often came to the kitchen sniffing for food. I now use it to relax him on the mat if he has seen or heard something scary. He falls asleep sometimes! I love touch and now just have to hold my hand out and he comes running for a treat, even when he has heard something out the front that he wants to bark at.
I haven’t put Bow on cue but will now! Upton has hip pain so his bowen therapist suggested putting the back leg stretch on cue. I mark Yes and treat when I see him do it. He is learning that doing Legs can earn him a treat so a few times he has done it to get what I have! I can tell a fake stretch from a real one though 😉
Janice Gullett says
This could help our rescues a lot. I am the adoption team leader and a coordinator for Baja Dogs La Paz and we often have dogs that are very cautious or scared because of their past and experiences prior to rescue. Since we rehabilitate in Mexico by our fosters this makes perfect sense for them to teach. Is there a way to teach without a clicker ? Would it just be a verbal command to reinforce the play bow ? Our rescue, fosters and new Mexican families would love to see your books in Spanish, it would help so much.
No need for a clicker! Just substitute “good” and you’re all set.
I just came across your blog while searching for resources on how to best train my new rescue dog (and first dog as a primary owner). What a delight it is to read your advice and hear about what life on your farm is like! I couldn’t help but laugh at “how many plant diseases can one accumulate relating to wet ground and too much moisture?” – regardless, your plants look beautiful.
I love the idea of teaching a play bow and will likely make this our next command to learn. Still working on the very basics right now and are about to start a beginner’s obedience class. My new dog is somewhere between 1-2 years of age and wants to play with other dogs with unrestrained enthusiasm. I’m still learning about behavior, but through watching him, I think he has the best of intentions and not great manners. Maybe teaching a play bow will help him take a step toward playing nicely and greeting others more calmly.
Also, fascinating information on the importance of stretching for canines! My work involves medical research (for humans), but I’ve become completely engrossed in reading about canine health and behavior. It didn’t even occur to me that this field would exist – I wish I would have studied it! Makes absolute sense – athletes warm up, so why wouldn’t canine athletes benefit, too?
Looking forward to more entries!
Tracy D. says
Love that picture of the dog play bowing to the cat! My dog recently started doing this to our cat and I keep telling him she doesn’t speak dog.
Chris from Boise says
A verbal marker, as Trisha pointed out above, like Good!, or Yes!, or Tut! (or whatever) is just fine.
Our new(ish) Rowan is very sound-sensitive, and wilts at the sound of a clicker. I’ve been using a verbal marker, which has worked almost as well. The kicker is that I plan to take her to an obedience class, in which other students will use clickers, so just realized she will have to learn that it’s not a Terrible Thing. Tonight I started conditioning her to the sound of a ballpoint pen “click”. She wilted at first, but I upped the reward value (to hamburger) and she’s beginning to think it’s not the worst thing in the world. There is hope!
Gayle Marple: You might teach Star a cue to leap into your arms (or prepare to be picked up); it might help her feel more secure to have a plan with you when other dogs appear.
That tree frog is hard to see – but wonderful!
Thanks for the link to Kikopup’s videos – I’ve trained playbows in the past by capturing them, will try this method with Rowan.
Hurray for Monty and Debbie! They sound like a great team. I send best wishes that Monty’s mental and emotional health recover as well as he has done physically.
I’m so glad Debbie found Monty. What a difference in the before and after. Stories like his make me want to rescue every dog I see on Craigs List although I know that one good sized dog is probably as much I can handle. Skizziks, a Holstein-spotted border collie/Labrador, is a therapy dog with a number of tricks under his belt. We usually conclude demonstrations of his expertise with with a bow. I like the idea of using Bravo. As the video suggests, there was some confusion with Bow and Down when we started.
I got to the “Tug Bravo, Splash Bravo” part of the Kikopup video and I couldn’t stop laughing. OMG too cute.
Thanks! (That was driving me nuts :>)
“Bang” for play dead is a favorite trick that my dogs do. My vet was super-excited by all the postures, like bang, that Claire-dog knew because it made getting x-rays very easy.
“Yea!” is the command for jumping up in the air like a pogo-stick for my dogs and that is also a people-pleaser. Good way to get the energy and excitement up before doing an agility run but also incompatible with a lot of other behaviors, including jumping on people.
Beverly Ann Hebert says
By coincidence I have just recently taught my dog to Bow and had posted a video of her doing her new trick on Instagram the night before reading this. She easily learned the hand signal but when I started adding the verbal cue she tended to mix it up with Down (although she would repeat whichever behavior she had been most recently doing). So I have a suggestion about the verbal cue – notice that if you say Bow and the first part of Down – Dow – they sound similar. I found my dog had an easier time learning the verbal cue “Take a Bow” which I say as if it was one word in in 3 syllables (Takeabow).
Barb Stanek says
Not a tricks person. Just not a “Isn’t that cute?” person.
But I just finished my first tricks class with my 3-4 month puppy! I’m glad I did it! I’m also surprised at how many tricks she could do fairly reliably in the class setting.
Jennifer R. Donohue says
“Bow” is something I’ve taught my girls one after the other, and also “spin”.
Probably Elka’s most impressive suite of cues was “find it”, “pick it up”, “bring it here”. She had a lot of toys and household objects in her lexicon, could bring you the other one if she brought you just one shoe to begin with, etc.
I’m working on that slowly with Ulrike. Due to the nature of chaining behaviors, though, sometimes she hilariously resorts to vigorously stomping on the item indicated to be picked up. She’s aces at closing kitchen cabinets and drawers, though!
Great advice and super observation catch. Cyber treats to you!
Bitsey Patton says
Abby’s cutest trick and a crowd favorite is Snap Snap. She clicks her teeth. Abby is so sweet and adorable that there is no confusion about whether this is a trick or not. This was so easy to teach, because when she was young and would greet me at the door, she would click her teeth. All I had to do was reward that and put words on it. Done! Now she does Snap Snap when she wants my attention or if I have some yummy food, not just when asked, but she’ll 11 now and there are no rules!
Part of the reason I say “paw” or “two paws” is not to confuse it with the other trick I always hope to teach–shake. It’s a handy way to get dogs to shake off water before getting in the car or the house, etc. Sadie, queen-of-dogs, learned it easily, and since then I’ve not had as much luck teaching it to successive pups.
I’m pleased to confirm Olive has mastered the shake as evident this weekend. After she swims, she likes to take the last stick she fetched and jump in the car and chew it for a while. It’s her way of cooling off 😉 Well, shaking off with a stick in your mouth is tough. Letting go of the stick is equally tough for a terrier. She has learned to shake off in a variety of other settings but this was the last challenge. Saturday, she really wanted to jump in the car with the prize stick, and she knew I was going to wait for a shake before I let her in. You could see her struggle, and she dropped the stick twice but picked it back up immediately. Finally, she dropped it, shook, and yay! In the car with her prize. She then did it a few more times over the weekend,! Go Olive!
I’ve been meaning to work on this so thanks for the push . I started by capturing the bows when I saw them and sure enough, I saw then more and more. Then I watched the video and did the luring with an actual clicker , which always seems to me to indicate to her that we’re actually working. She’s enjoying it a lot and I’m glad it’s helping her. She’s 10 now so stretching is always a good idea.
Funny story : she taught herself a trick. One day she couldn’t fit between the couch and the coffee table to get her dinner so she ran around it. She was so proud. So I kept working on it and now she’ll do it on cue in either direction.
Love your blog. Scratches to Maggie and Tootsie
i am going to teach this to paco!! thank you for the tips and the training video! except around his tried and true buddies, paco is neutral around dogs and sometimes even nervous around them. so i think this will be helpful to break the ice around also help relax his muscles, as you mentioned. also, i like the idea of it working his back a his rear leg muscles to keep them strong. can’t wait to try this evening!
the one really useful trick i taught paco is “around” and we use it in so many different contexts. at first it was for him to switch the side of me he was walking on—when i could sense him getting nervous at an approaching dog, i would say around and he had to walk to my other side so my body would be in between him and the approaching dog. but once he somehow managed to get behind some fencing at a park–not quite sure how he managed to do it– and he started to get panicked in trying to get back to me–was jumping on the fence, trying to claw his way up–i started saying “around” and made circular motions with my right arm and it was like i could see the moment the light went on in his mind–he backtracked and made a half moon to where the fencing ended!
I taught Skye the play bow years ago, based on something you wrote about it being a relaxing position for dogs. I have her do a couple of bows every time we enter an agility ring – she nervous and hyped up, and this does the trick of helping her pay attention to me and relax a bit. The verbal cue we use is ‘curtsey’ because it has more consonants than ‘bow’, and the physical cue is that I do a rough approximation of a curtsey that one would do when meeting royalty. The audience loves it!