Why Do Dogs Stretch?
Many dogs stretch, so much so, that more and more dog owners have gained an interest in their dog's natural predisposition and are taking their dogs as an example to follow. Introducing "doga," an emerging trend meant to combine dogs with yoga. Not only are people and dogs nowadays exercising and stretching together, but many yoga moves are inspired by dogs, simulating their stretching moves, but why do dogs stretch in the first place?
Stretching For Flexibility
You may think of stretching as something that's performed exclusively by runners, yogis or gymnasts, but Rover has his own good reasons to stretch too. Nobody had to really teach him to stretch though-it's just something that he performs naturally.
The perks of stretching involve keeping muscles flexible, strong, and healthy so to maintain an optimal range of motion of the joints.
If Rover failed to stretch, his muscles would shorten and become sore and tight. Then, that time he decides to rely on his muscles for activity, he would suffer the consequence of having weak muscles that are rigid and unable to extend all the way. Lack of stretching could therefore lead to joint pain, strains, impaired movement and muscle damage.
Did you know? When a cat or dog lies down with his back legs stretched out, it's called a "sploot." This dog sleeping position is meant to help dogs cool down.
Stretching to Feel Good
Dogs are drawn to carrying out behaviors that feel good, while avoiding things that may cause pain, fear or discomfort.
Let's face it: the act of stretching feels good. Indeed, when humans and dogs stretch, their bodies releases special "feel good" chemicals that are known as endorphins. Endorphins trigger a positive feeling in the body which also helps foster relaxation.
Stretching After a Nap
If you notice your dog stretching upon waking up from a nap, he's doing the equivalent of what you do when you wake up in the morning and stretch your arms and yawn.
After laying in the same position for several minutes or hours, the muscles lose some tone and tighten, so stretching is an effective way to loosen them.
Stretching When Excited
It's called the "play bow" and encompasses a dog stretching his front legs out in front of him, leaning down with the elbows touching or almost touching the floor, with the rump in the air and a playful look on the face.
It often takes place when dogs are in a playful mood and aims to communicate an intent to play. It's as if these dogs are saying "It's time to play, let's party!" Indeed, often right after the play bow follows some rowdy dog play, with lots of biting, jumping and running around.
Play bows are described as being a form of meta-communication (communication about communication). Basically, a way for dogs to communicate that whatever follows is still part of play although it may be particularly boisterous or rough.
Marc Bekoff claims that play bows might serve as a form of punctuation meant to clarify that "I want to play despite what I am going to do or just did-- I still want to play".
Stretching When Greeting You
It's called the "greeting stretch" and it's often carried out when dogs are walking your way, looking at you. Brenda Aloff, in the book "Canine Body Language, A Photographic Guide,"describes this form of stretching as "a posture used only towards someone the dog likes and with whom he is comfortable."
When dogs perform the greeting stretch, their ears are relaxed and they often show soft, squinty eyes pointing towards the owner. The posture involves lowering of the front legs, while their back legs are raised. The front legs are often lined up together, but the elbows don't touch the floor.
Sometimes, as these dogs stretch, their back legs will stretch out too behind them, sometimes being dragged a bit.
The body language is much more relaxed compared to the average play bow dogs do when they are ready to spring in action with a spirited, playful look on their faces as described above. Indeed, when doing a greeting stretch some dogs will yawn too!
Stretching in Pain
Sometimes, excessive stretching in dogs may be indicative of a medical problem. Some dogs stretch their front legs and keep their chest down with their rear end up in the air in what is called the "prayer position" when they have abdominal pain.
The purpose of this stretching motion is to attempt to relieve pressure/pain that is sourcing from the abdomen. Affected dogs may be suffering from some temporary irritation in the stomach possibly from acid reflux, a dietary indiscretion or the presence of some bacteria or virus that was picked up.
In severe cases, stretching may be triggered by a case of pancreatitis, which is a painful inflammation of the pancreas needing veterinary attention. Sometimes, dogs may also stretch when they are suffering from some spinal problem.
In any case, it would be best to have the dog see the vet to rule out any potential medical problems especially if, on top of stretching, your dog is also acting restless and/or is panting, drooling, vomiting or having diarrhea and appetite loss.
Now That You Know...
As seen, stretching in dogs can have several positive physical and emotional benefits. It feels good and helps keep those muscles and joints in good shape.
Not surprisingly, veterinarians, animal rehabilitation physiotherapists, animal chiropractors, and dog owners are considering stretching exercises as part of an exercise program which aims to strengthen various areas of the body allowing successful rehabilitation.
This is particularly helpful to senior dogs who suffer from achy joints. Some stretching and range of motion exercises can indeed help these older fellows preserve functionality, as well as decrease pain.
Some exercises, you can even train your dog to do on his own, for instance, you can train your dog to take a bow and put it on cue so that you can remind your dog to stretch every now and then!
Of course, always consult with your veterinarian before starting any stretching exercises for your dog. He or she can guide you on how to stretch without hurting your dog and can help you find the best dog stretching regimen that is custom-tailored for your dog's individual needs.