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Dog Greeting Stretch: What Does It Mean?

Have you noticed your dog stretching when they see you? This is probably a greeting stretch – and it’s a very positive behaviour!

Dogs sometimes give a deep bow or stretch when they see someone they love. This type of greeting stretch is only given if they are fully comfortable and trusting of the person, which is why it’s one of my favourite canine behaviours.

Why Does My Dog Greet Me With A Stretch?

Your dog stretching when they see you is most likely a friendly greeting. In fact, this type of behaviour has become known as a “greeting stretch” in the canine world.

When dogs give a greeting stretch, it shows that they are happy, relaxed, and want to interact with you. While it’s important not to think of dogs as humans, a greeting stretch could be seen as similar to giving a loved one a hug.

Dogs don’t give a greeting stretch to just anyone. This behaviour is reserved for those they truly trust and love. So, you should consider it a great honour if your dog gives you a greeting stretch. Make sure you give your dog some love and affection back!

Speaking from personal experience, my dogs often give me a greeting stretch when I come downstairs after working in my home office. However, they are much more excitable when I return home after being out of the house, so I’m less likely to get a calm greeting stretch during these reunions.

And here’s what dog trainer Rebecca Morello has to say about it:

Greeting stretches are often saved for the people dogs trust the most in the world. It is a slow movement that obviously puts any animal in a vulnerable position, therefore they will only do it if they feel safe enough. My clients tell me that the most common time they see this is their first greeting of the morning where dogs tend to be at their calmest

Rebecca Morello, IMDT

What Exactly Does The Greeting Stretch Look Like?

Diagram of a greeting stretch

At first glance, a greeting stretch looks similar to a play bow. However, there are several key differences that make these two behaviours easy to tell apart.

Here’s a quick overview of what a greeting stretch looks like:

  • The dog bows their front legs, but the feet are generally closer together than they would be in a play bow (although not always).
  • The stretch is directed towards the person being greeted.
  • The dog leans into the stretch and seems relaxed.
  • The elbows usually remain off the floor
  • The nose tends to be pointed upwards towards the person’s face.
  • The dog appears relaxed, unlike the poised-for-action look that accompanies a play bow.
  • The dog will have a relaxed facial expression (and may even give a big yawn.)

If you’re not sure whether your dog is giving a greeting stretch, look at their overall body language. If the dog seems calm and peaceful, it’s likely a greeting stretch. But if they appear alert and ready to spring into action, it’s most likely a playful bow.

In some cases, dogs follow up a greeting stretch with a back leg stretch. This is typically performed one leg at a time. During the rear stretch, the dog’s torso often extends upwards towards you.

See the short video below for an example of both the front and back greeting stretches:

Why Else Might My Dog Stretch When They See Me?

The greeting stretch is the most common reason for your dog to stretch when they see you. But there are also a couple of other alternative explanations.

They Want to Play (Play Bow)

A dog that’s excited to see you and ready to play may give a “play bow.” As I mentioned earlier, this can look like a greeting stretch, but is actually a sign that the dog is ready for fun.

In a play bow, the dog typically lowers its front legs so the chest is very close to the ground, often with elbows touching the floor. Unlike in a greeting stretch, the feet are usually spread wide, and the mouth has a relaxed “smile.”

They Need to Stretch Out After Resting

Dogs often stretch out their muscles after a deep sleep. This is an instinctive behaviour that helps dogs ease stiffness and maintain flexibility, while also promoting blood flow to the muscles.

So, if your dog is greeting you after a long nap, they might just be trying to stay supple!

Is Stretching Ever A Worrying Sign?

In general, stretching is a healthy and normal behaviour in dogs. It helps them stay flexible and boosts blood circulation to their muscles – and even releases feel-good hormones!

Similarly, a greeting stretch is a natural and positive sign. It shows a deep level of trust and affection your dog has for you.

However, there are some situations when stretching can be a symptom of illness. These can include excessive stretching, changes in stretching behaviour (including holding a stretch longer than normal), repeatedly stretching the same area, or showing signs of discomfort during a stretch.

If you’re worried about your dog’s stretching, it’s vital to consult a veterinarian. Some potential causes could include:

  • Abdominal pain. If your dog is experiencing abdominal pain, they might stretch into the “prayer” position to alleviate pressure on their belly. This pain could be caused by conditions ranging from pancreatitis to the life-threatening bloat. So, if you notice this behaviour, seek veterinary help as an emergency.
  • Muscle stiffness. A dog with sore muscles or joints might stretch to find relief. This behaviour is more common in older dogs or those suffering from arthritis.
  • Stress. Dogs might stretch more frequently when they’re feeling stressed or anxious. Stretching can temporarily relieve tension by releasing endorphins and reducing muscle stiffness.
  • Excess energy. A dog that’s not getting enough physical exercise or mental stimulation might stretch as a way to relieve feelings of frustration.

We’ve written a full guide to why your dog might be stretching a lot. But remember, when in doubt, always consult a vet.

Frequently Asked Questions

Why Does My Dog Put His Paws on Me and Stretch?

The simple reason your dog might stretch on you is because it feels good! By using you as a stretching tool, the dog might be able to get a deeper or more satisfying stretch. Your dog might also stretch on you as a form of greeting, to get your attention, because they like physical contact, or even to reduce anxiety.

Related Article: Why Does My Dog Lay On Me?

Do Dogs Greet Unfamiliar People With a Stretch?

Generally, dogs reserve the greeting stretch for people they’re fully comfortable with and trust. It’s rare for a dog to stretch as a greeting for a stranger. So, if a dog greets you with a stretch, feel privileged – you’ve earned a special place in their heart!

Summary

The dog greeting stretch is a wonderful sight. Our canine friends only use it when they see someone they love and trust, so you should consider it a true honour when your dog does it to you!

The key features of a greeting stretch include a relaxed facial expression, elbows off the floor, and feet close together. Dogs performing a greeting stretch may also stretch out their back legs.

Do you have any questions about the dog greeting stretch? Or would you like to know more about another aspect of canine behaviour? Please let us know in the comments section below.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Richard Cross

Richard is a journalist who specialises in dog behavior. He's written hundreds of articles and books related to dogs, including for the Continental Kennel Club, Dog Fest (the UK's biggest dog festival) and various veterinary surgeries. When he's not spending time with Jess and Rudy (his beloved Labrador and Golden Retrievers), he enjoys reading, hiking and watching sports.
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