Seeing your dog put his head down and raise his butt up into the air might leave you thinking “Isn’t that uncomfortable?” but the reality is that this position is a completely normal position for dogs to be in. In fact, it’s an extremely comfortable position and it serves the important purpose of communicating to other dogs that your dog means no harm.
The most likely reason dogs put their head down and their butt raised up is because they are performing a play bow, showing another dog that they are harmless and are only interested in playing. They could also be stretching or engaging in stalking behavior. While rare it could be due to a health issue.
It’s actually one of the most common dog behaviors, so common in fact that it even has a yoga pose named after it and if you’ve ever done yoga you’ve probably held the “Downward Dog” pose!
Below we will discuss the most likely reasons why your dog is putting down their head and lifting their butt up into the air, as well as tips on how to tell if your dog is just performing the
Reason #1: He Is Performing A Play Bow
A play bow is used in doggy communication to indicate to other dogs (or even other animals!) that the dog is friendly and means no harm. This play bow is most often used as an invitation to engage in play, or to reduce conflict among dogs.
Dogs will often repeatedly engage in play bows throughout a play session, and humans can even mimic the play bow to entice their dogs to play with them. My two German Shepherds love play bow to start a play session and it’s especially exaggerated thanks to their long legs!
When your dog is about to perform a play bow, you will usually see them complete either a smooth or sharp downward movement with the front half of their body and they will push their front legs out in front of them. The back half of their body will be sticking straight up into the air, and their tail will most likely be wagging slightly.
For shorter dogs, you may not notice as much of a bow, and dogs with hip issues or dogs who are heavily muscular on their front end and leaner on the back end (such as a Bulldog) may not be able to bring their front ends all the way down and there may only be slight movement of their back end.
Dogs can engage in play bows with other dogs, other animals, or even with their human owners. When performing a play bow, your dog will also likely be displaying other play behaviors and his playful mood will be quite obvious.
This video contains a great example of how and when a play bow is used, and the body language that accompanies it:
Reason #2: He Is Stretching
Dogs, just like people, enjoy a good stretch, and putting down their head and lifting their butt up into the air really helps with stretching out the muscles of the dog’s back, sides, hips, and rear legs.
It’s very similar to the morning stretch that a lot of people will do, and it feels nice to the dog, too. After doing this type of stretch, your dog may give a good body shake and yawn, which also indicates that he feels nice and relaxed.
Reason #3: He Is Stalking Something
Stalking is a natural predatory behavior in dogs and can be seen even when they are just playing around. Your dog may start creeping slowly forward with his head still lowered and his bum slightly lifted, and then he may either pounce on something in front of him or he may lunge forward to chase whatever he was stalking.
If you are noticing this behavior in your dog and you have a cat or other small animal, you may want to keep a close eye on him to make sure he is just playing rather than actually engaging in predatory behavior.
Reason #4: He Has A Health Condition
Rarely, your dog may be suffering from some kind of illness or health issue if you notice them repeatedly put their head down and butt up into the air.
These conditions can include stomach or gastrointestinal issues such as constipation or gas build up, pain in the upper body, or discomfort in the rear hips, or it could be a neurological issue where the dog is having issues bringing his rear end down.
As you might expect, medical conditions can lead to all kinds of unusual or weird dog behavior. Your dog may also enter this position if they ate something they shouldn’t have (like a sock) and they are in pain trying to pass the object through their digestive tract.
If you suspect your dog is in this position due to a medical issue, then you should consult a veterinarian to determine the cause.
How Can I Tell If My Dog Is Performing A Play Bow And Not Doing Something Else?
When attempting to determine why your dog has her head down and her butt up in the air, it’s important to look at the situation your dog is currently in. Is she playing with another dog? Or did she just wake up from a nap?
Understanding what activities your dog engaged in just before seeing the head down and bum up behavior will help you decipher what exactly your dog is doing, and if it is something to be concerned about.
It’s likely that most of the time you are seeing your dog with his head down and his butt up in the air, your dog is engaging in a play bow.
The rest of the time you see that behavior he is probably stretching, and rarely would it be due to stalking behavior or a health issue. As Not A Bully’s advising veterinarian, Dr. Nita Patel told us “If this behavior is related to an underlying medical issue then it may also be combined with vomiting, diarrhea, or abdominal pain and not just the play bow position.”
However, to make your assessment a little easier, these are the three factors I tell my training clients to look for when deciding if they’re looking at a play bow or a problem.
1. Your Dog Is Interacting With Another Dog.
You will most likely see both dogs engaging in a play bow periodically while playing with each other (or even in a group of dogs).
If both dogs appear happy, relaxed, and are mimicking each other’s body language and moves, then it is likely that your dog is performing a play bow and not some other kind of movement when their head is down, and their butt is up.
The exception to this is if your dog is the type of player who likes to stalk his friend and then pounce on him or engage in a chase. I see this a lot with herding breeds like the Border Collie or with dogs who prefer to play tag rather than wrestle.
Even if your dog is stalking rather than doing a play bow, you’re still likely to see happy and relaxed dogs who are mutually playing together, and play bows will also likely be present.
2. Your Dog Is Displaying Other Playful Behaviors.
I find that when dogs play together, they usually display some common behaviors such as the play bow, “tag”-type games, or wrestling together.
As long as all dogs involved look happy and relaxed and no dog is singled out or appears uncomfortable, then the dogs are most likely playing, and any movement you see where the dog’s head goes down and their butt lifts is probably a play bow.
3. Your Dog Appears Relaxed And Happy.
If your dog shows no tension in their body or face, their mouth is loosely open and their eyes appear calm and relaxed, then it is likely they are performing a play bow, especially if there are other dogs present or you are playing with your dog. You can see in the photo of the happy Frenchie at the top of the page exactly what a happy play bow looks like!
It’s Probably Not To Attract A Mate
If you’re wondering whether the behavior of your dog putting her head down and bum up is a mating behavior then the answer is no, it’s not a mating behavior.
As previously discussed the play bow is a posture used to communicate playful intentions and is often seen during playtime, both with other dogs and with humans.
In contrast, when a female dog is in estrus (in heat) and is receptive to mating, her behaviors might include raising her back end slightly, standing still, and flagging, where she lifts her tail to the side.
Dr. Nita Patel further explained to us that the play bow is not part of these mating behaviors. “When the dog is in heat the vulva will also typically swell and there will be discharge. If your dog is in heat then they will try to make their vulva visible by raising the back and lifting their tail to the side.”
You will probably see your dog put their head down and their bum up into the air quite often, as it’s one of the most common behaviors and pieces of body language you will see in a dog.
Luckily, it’s also one of the easier behaviors to understand especially compared to more subtle changes like deciding to sleep outside your bed all of a sudden or going between your legs all of a sudden.
The most likely reason your dog is doing it is because they are performing a play bow, but they could also just be stretching or engaging in a natural predatory stalking behavior. While it could be related to a medical issue, it’s not as common, but if you are concerned that it’s health-related then a trip to your vet is probably in order.
Most of the time, though, when your dog drops his head down and lifts his bum up into the air, your dog is just in a playful mood!