Stretching is a natural instinct for everyone, including dogs.
We do it to get our blood flowing in the morning or to loosen our joints. Dogs stretch for many of the same reasons we do. However, dogs have a whole body language designed around how they stretch.
As humans, we don’t have fancy names for the way we stretch. It’s pretty standard stuff.
A dog, however, has a variety of stretches they perform. These include the play bow, the greeting stretch, and the morning stretch. In some cases, a dog’s stretch could indicate a medical condition.
Are you able to identify the difference between a stretch as a sign of affection versus a sign of a medical condition?
This post will guide you through 23 reasons why your dog stretches and how to tell what’s happening.
Common Dog Behaviors Related to Stretching
Dogs have a wide variety of behaviors that all mean something. They may not be able to talk, but they definitely have a lot to say. How they say it is interpreted through their body language.
Generally speaking, a dog’s behavior related directly to how they are feeling. Dogs who want to play may leap in the air, turn around, and settle into a playful bow.
With their front legs stretched forward, rear end up in the air, and a hopeful sparkle in their eyes, you’ll know instinctively that your dog wants to have fun.
It’s easy to see when your dog is happy, but it’s also important to recognize other signals that could mean something more serious. Why do dogs stretch on us? How can you recognize when the stretch might signify a health issues?
Here are 23 reasons why dogs stretch that you should pay close attention to.
#1. Waking Up Morning Stretches
Just like us, a dog likes a good stretch to get going in the morning. This can be accomplished a number of ways.
Your furry friend may ease into a downward facing dog position followed by an upward facing dog position. This gets the blood flowing and eliminates kinks from the legs, spine, and neck.
#2. Suspended Half-Sploot Stretch
This type of stretch is usually performed by a large dog (and for dogs who are allowed to sleep on the furniture!). To do this, the dog will place his paws on the floor and slowly walk forward while keeping his rear legs on the furniture.
As he moves away from the furniture, his spine gets long and curved. The dogs head may stretch way up and then back a little.
When he’s got the stretch he wanted, he’ll hop down from the furniture and get on with the day.
#3. Roaming Instinct
Dogs start the day with the idea of protecting their territory. Even dogs who are not considered “territorial” or guarding dogs will do this. It’s all part of the morning routine where the dog instinctually prepares the body to hunt for food or protect their territory.
Domestic dogs, of course, only need to give us those puppy-dog eyes to get whatever they want!
#4. Full Sploot
Have you heard of a sploot? If not, you’ll probably recognize it when you see it. When the dog-days of summer arrive, hot days can leave dogs uncomfortable. Naturally, they will seek out a shaded tree and water wherever they can find it.
In order to better cool their bodies, a dog will keep the rear legs in place and walk forward with the front paws until he/she is resting completely on the stomach. This involves having both legs splayed out behind the dog. In some cases, the dog will keep one leg tucked underneath.
Some dogs will even dig a small hole and lay across it in order to get air circulation to cool their body’s down.
WARNING: Watch for signs of heat-stroke in dogs and keep them out of the sun on a hot day. Hot, humid days can be dangerous if a dog is over-exercised, not getting enough water, and has no way to keep himself cool.
Dogs may also use tile floors or cool pavement to do the sploot stretch in an effort to cool down.
Dogs can die in minutes if left in a hot car.
#5. Sign of Dominance
Sometimes what looks like a stretch, isn’t truly a stretch at all. Dominance in dogs occurs when the dog thinks he/she is the alpha. This can happen when dog owners do not assume the role of pack leader.
Dogs who feel they are the dominant one in the house may do things like jump on people, guard excessively, show aggressive behavior like nipping or biting other people, pulling on the leash, etc.
Some defiant dogs will stretch and look away from you when you are attempting to correct bad behavior.
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#6. Sign of Affection
There’s nothing cuter than when a dog puts his paws on your lap and leans in for a kiss. Your dog might stretch in front of you when you walk through the door or jump up on your lap and stretch there. Your dog is showing that he/she is happy and feels safe in your company.
#7. Canine Bloat
Canine bloat is a serious and sometimes deadly condition if not treated immediately. Also known as gastric dilation-volvulus, this occurs when a dog’s stomach fills with gas, food, or fluid.
The stomach twists on itself and cuts off blood flow. Signs of bloat include:
- swollen belly
- attempt to vomit without success
- excessive drooling.
You will know that something is seriously wrong. Your dog may attempt to stretch his abdominal muscles to relieve the pain. This is a serious, life-threatening condition. Contact a veterinarian ASAP.
READ THE FULL DETAILS OF CANINE BLOAT HERE: 5 Symptoms of Bloat in Dogs
In simple terms, pancreatitis is inflammation of the pancreas.
Symptoms of pancreatitis include:
- a hunched back (which may look like a stretch)
- loss of appetite
- pain or distention of the abdomen
- repeated vomiting.
Unfortunately, pancreatitis is a painful and dangerous condition.
It can be caused by a high-fat diet. Dog diets that are high in fat lead to weight gain. Weight gain in dogs can lead to heart conditions that include congestive heart failure.
#9. Signs of Anxiety
When assessing a dog’s behavior, it’s important to recognize signs of anxiety. Stretching itself is considered normal behavior for a dog.
Signs of an anxious dog, however, may include:
- obsessive stretching
- quick stretching with ears pinned back
- yawning while stretching
- stretching and backing away almost at the same time
- excessive grooming
- chattering teeth
- shaking off as if wet
- excessive blinking
#10. Pleural Effusion
Pleural effusion means there is fluid surrounding the dog’s heart and lungs. It can be caused by congestive heart failure, trauma or injury, cancer, severe infection, abnormal inflammation, metabolic problems, and more.
Signs of pleural effusion include:
- exercise intolerance
- constant panting
- stretching the neck to try and breath better
- using the abdominal muscles to try and breath better
- blueish gums and increased respiration rate greater than 40 bpm.
#11. Submissive Behavior
Every dog has their own unique personality. Some dogs seem to have a continuously happy expression. Some dogs are naturally more submissive, and others are much more confident.
An example of submissive behavior might occur at the dog park. The minute your dog spots another one, he/she lays completely flat on the ground.
Other ways of showing submission would be if your dog stretches in front of you or other animals with the head held down and the hind end in the air.
#12. Needs More Physical Activity
Have you ever sat too long watching movie after movie? If so, you know what it feels like to want to move your body. Regular exercise
is important for dogs and people as a way to move oxygen through the body, keep the muscles toned, and the joints oiled.
If you haven’t been outside with your dog in a while, he/she may begin to stretch as a way of relieving tight muscles.
#13. Your Dog is Tired
Tired dogs will stretch before bed. You might notice your dog stretching in or around his/her dog bed for example. If you’re out visiting with your dog, he/she might begin to stretch to signal it’s time to go home.
Dogs can become bored. Some breeds just need to have more mental and physical stimulation than others. The best way to combat this is through a regular exercise routine combined with mentally challenging games like the wildly popular Outward Hound Purple Twister Puzzle for dogs.
#15. First Signs of Hip Dysplasia
If you notice your dog attempting a stretch without being able to complete it, he/she may have pain. In some cases, it could be a sign of hip dysplasia.
#16. Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Dogs can have OCD. This happens when a dog is overly anxious and can take the form of excessive stretching, excessive grooming (licking paws for example), or repeating behaviors like pawing, scratching, or vocalizing.
#17. Signs of Pain
One of the best ways to identify pain in a dog is to witness your dog NOT doing the normal things he/she should do. This includes everything from eating, to playing, to stretching.
#18. The Greeting Bow
This is the bow all dog owners love to see. The greeting bow. Dogs love it when their owners return and they often show it by prancing around with toys, stretching in front of their owners, tails wagging, and showing a happy smile.
#19. Upset Stomach
Although rare, it’s possible your dog could stretch if he/she has an upset stomach. Dogs and people have built-in signals that tell us what to do if we are not feeling well. This might include stretching areas that are in pain as a way to relieve that sensation.
#20. Play Bow Stretch
The play bow stretch is a common occurrence. Dogs love to play and if they sense you’re not paying attention, they may leap in the air, bark, sniff, and sink into a playful stretch.
#21. Full-Body Stretch
The full-body stretch can happen anytime and anywhere. This is just a nice way to get the blood flowing and the joints lubricated. It typically happens first thing in the morning or after a long nap.
Summing it up
Dogs and people stretch for a number of reasons. Most stretches are completely normal and signify that everything is fine.
In the rare times when things are not fine, you’ll likely see other signs that point to a problem. For the most part, those loving greeting bows or first-thing-in-the-morning stretches are nothing to be worried about. In fact, they should be encouraged.
I want to thank you for reading this post. I hope you’ll return for more up-to-date dog health information and that you’ll share!