When I used to see this behaviour, I always assumed it was like a human ‘Morning Stretch’. I thought my dog had probably been sleeping or relaxing before I arrived home, and this was his way of waking up his muscles, joints and tendons, and getting the blood flowing again.
However, the ‘Wake Up Stretch’ is actually very different to the ‘Greetings Stretch’ that an owner sometimes sees when they come home. In doing a bit of research into this, I came across Brenda Aloff’s wonderful description in the book Canine Body Language – A Photographic Guide:
“The Greeting Stretch is a posture used only towards someone the dog likes and with whom he is comfortable… In the Greetings Stretch, you will see a relaxed ear carriage and squinty eyes. The dogs have a liquid, languid look about them.”
The four main signs seen are: lowered forequarters, raised hindquarters, nose pointed towards you and elbows off the ground.
This ‘Greetings Stretch’ (or ‘bow’ as it might be known) can sometimes be in the form of a front stretch, where the dog lowers his elbows and raises his hind in the air, and then can move into a rear stretch (or vice versa). Sometimes your dog will also do a large yawn to go with the movement (if you’re lucky!).
Aloff goes on to say:
“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.”
In a way, it is quite similar body language to the ‘Play Bow’, but you don’t get the feeling that your dog is about to pounce, and there is no ‘coiled spring’ look either. Also, with the ‘Play Bow’, you will see a more extreme lowering of the body, and the ears are more erect rather than floppy.
So, do count yourself very lucky if your dog does greet you in this manner – they won’t perform the ‘Greetings Stretch’ to just anyone, so it’s a sign of your special relationship.