I have read lots of articles about the basics of dog calming signals, and lots too about all the different play moves that dogs will try, but less about other, more everyday dog body language, like, “Hey ‘sup.”
I never really thought about it too much… I had read so many articles about calming signals that I guess I just assumed, “Whelp, that is how dogs talk. Just lip licks and yawns all day every day. Done deal.”
But then a few months ago I noticed that Betsy does something that definitely seemed like a body language communication I had never read about:
Whenever I came home, she’d sit calmly and stare at me as I opened the door and put my things down (aside: She is so zen whenever I come home but if one of our family members comes for a visit she just goes insane with hyper joy. Traitor.)
Once I finished getting organized, I’d make eye contact with her, smile, and say, “Hey Betsy!” She’d wag her tail, start walking towards me, then suddenly stop and let out this biiiig stretch before crossing the remaining gap between us and licking my face.
It wasn’t something I noticed right away because you see your dog stretch and you assume they are just getting up from a nap or whatever, but after awhile I realized that this was not a, “I need to stretch my sleepy muscles.” type of stretch. It was very predictable, and it seemed to be related to greeting me. I never saw her do it at any other time.
So I went to the google machine and yep! This is a thing! Some people call it a greeting stretch, other people call it a greeting bow, but it looks more like a stretch than a bow to me.
Here’s a nice description of it from Canine Body Language, A Photographic Guide, which is where most people seem to have gotten their information about this stretch. I wish there were other sources to confirm, but all the same, I am a believer in the stretch!
The Greeting Stretch is a posture used only towards someone the dog likes and with whom he is comfortable. There is also a version of this where the dog leans forward and stretches his rear legs out behind him.
In the greeting stretch, you will see a relaxed ear carriage and squinty eyes. The dogs have a liquid, languid look about them.
“It is very flattering to have a dog greet you in this unrestrained, friendly and very respectful manner. This greeting acknowledges your personal space and is a request for the two of you to interact.”