What is the How in the “Play Bow?”

The why of dog play has been the subject of some recent research. Yet the fundamental question is not being asked: How does a “play bow” indicate an invitation to play? Yes dogs often play thereafter, but not always. In fact, fearful and aggressive dogs misconstrue the enthusiasm invested in a play bow as a dog in their face fixing to pounce on them. Are they deficient in the communicative arts, lacking the capacity to read such a signal? No because often they have a play mate at home or another dog with whom they feel safe and to whom they respond positively when they are the object of their “play bows.” Something positive is undoubtedly going on within the mind of the play bower, I’m not arguing otherwise. My point is that the fundamental question remains; how specifically does the head-down/hind-up posture constitute an invitation? Below is what noted expert Karen London has to say:

http://thebark.com/content/do-you-play-bow-your-dog

London: “When dogs want to play, they let others know with play signals, which they use to get play started and to keep it going. A play signal tells another dog: ‘I want to play.’ Using play signals to communicate makes it less likely that a dog’s actions will be misinterpreted, which can cause play to escalate into aggression.” 

KB: But again, how? The above is self-recursive logic. For example; when one receives an invitation in the mail, or by spoken word, in such signals there’s a precise structure and mechanics that transmits information; letters are used to form words, words are used to form sentences, and then there is syntax, tense and grammar necessary to convey the message. How the invitation is encoded into information is demonstrable. But this isn’t being provided here. All that is offered is a declarative statement; to wit, play bows are a statement of a playful intention.

London: “It also communicates that even if the behavior to follow is borrowed from other contexts such as fighting or predation and involves biting, chasing, shaking, or slamming into one another, it is playful in nature.”

KB: Here we are given the hint of a model. Certain behaviors common to play are “borrowed” from other contexts such as fighting or predation.

But then there’s no end to the borrowing …………….

http://www.petplace.com/dogs/why-do-dogs-bow-down-to-play/page1.aspx

“The play-bow probably evolved out of a submissive crouch, but the signal has become an unmistakable way to indicate a desire to play, no matter where the dog is in the social hierarchy. A more dominant dog may even allow himself to be chased in the interest of fun, may encourage play by lying down and allowing a subordinate dog to “attack” him.”

KB: (So why are mock attacks fun?) From the above we are led to believe that a dominant dog adopts a submissive posture so that he can borrow from the prey-making suite in order to be chased around by a play mate who gets to grab and flip him around. He does all this because play is fun.  Play is fun because dogs are playful. Also we recall that the latest research that rolling over on the back in play IS NOT a submissive gesture, and yet  above the root of the play bow evolved from a submissive gesture so as to not be a submissive gesture, now sublimated to the pursuit of fun. And what ties this all together is the self-recursive logic loop; dogs are playful because play is fun.

In regards to play we all agree that something is going on within the minds of both the signaler and the signalee. Inarguably this would be emotional in nature. Furthermore Panksepp’s research demonstrates that emotion is pre-verbal but this means that its processes cannot be articulated via human intellectual concepts such as “I want to play with you, can you see I am being playful?” So if Panksepp is right then the language used in these treatments is wrong.

A far more parsimonious interpretation is that biting, chasing, shaking and body slamming (not to mention rolling over) are integral to play, they are not borrowed from anything. These behaviors are why playing feels good in the first place. We could construct a model by beginning with the observation that all emotional states of attraction are predicated on the predator/prey dynamic (even in prey species) and play is the expression of an underlying, primal motive consummated through the set of motor actions that best conduct and fulfill that primal motive. With this as a foundation, a far more coherent model can be constructed wherein the process of objectification, how a shape coalesces in the mind from sensory inputs, in conjunction with how the mind constructs a sense of a Self, reveals that objects of attraction are perceived as extensions of the Self. Such a model can clearly articulate that play is fun as play fulfills the fundamental mandate of emotion, to interconnect sentient beings so as to couple their emotional energies into a coherent, collectivized whole. This same dynamic underwrites the relationship between predator and prey, male and female, peer-to-peer and parent to offspring. In a subsequent article I will formulate a rationale for the play bow that doesn’t rely on the projection of verbalizations into the mind of a dog and so is consistent with Panksepp’s theory.

 

Published January 20, 2015 by Kevin Behan
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16 responses to “What is the How in the “Play Bow?””

  1. Ann Feitelson says:

    The play bow begins a wave, no? Down-dog will become up-dog. It is an invitation to surf the wave!

  2. Kevin Behan says:

    Absolutely yes. Well done. I’ll flesh out this point in a subsequent post, but the Play Bow is the dog collecting itself into the equal/opposite phase of the one wave function that it is trying to achieve with its prospective play mate. It’s physics, not psychology. The latter flows from the former because the mind is based on the body. The body does more than carry the head around. It is the barometer of well-being.

  3. Ann Feitelson says:

    Posit: the heart is a moon, bound gravitationally to the earth, the source of greatest attraction. I was watching Tika with a chew toy last night–she was in a play bow with the toy, grounding her heart to the floor in her excitement. Like a bouncing ball, she’s gaining impetus for soaring by hitting the ground, she’s feeling the wave. Am I mixing too many metaphors? The moon causes the tides…the earth and the moon are each pushing-pulling.

    When she chooses a sunny spot to sit in, I’m guessing there is the most gravitational attraction there, more vibes to connect with. She wants to connect, or feels best when gravitationally linked in.

  4. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Does the play bow have anything to do with emotional/physical center of gravity?

  5. Kevin Behan says:

    Yes, great observation. The feeling of the p-cog is projected into a complex object of attraction in order to ascertain its midpoint, or center-of-gravity, as a prerequisite to making contact. It’s trying to integrate its p-cog with the e-cog in one wave form and so it is syncing up by way of the play bow (the precise details of which I will write about in a future post) via the mechanics of locomotion. If the other dog doesn’t get going, the play bow dog is likely to bark in a deep metered manner as a way of returning to the optimal locomotive rhythm without actually moving. It’s executing the full wave form through its bark as if it is running with the other dog. Because its bark and body are so wave like, and because it can stay in place by using the bark to outlet its incredible degree of arousal, the other dog is generally non-plussed by a dog barking in its face. It can feel the dog is rooted in its position and the wave action of its body/mind is prey-like and so therefore grounding. It can feel the potential of merging its p-cog with the play bow dogs’ e-cog and therefore is getting some vicarious pleasure this way and may in time respond positively. I can appreciate that when one immediately injects intention into complex behavior the play bow seems like an invitation to play, but nevertheless this approach will not be able to build a model. Whereas when we begin with attraction rather than intention, a model can be built through a systems logic. Because physicists are comfortable with a systems logic we are seeing in the news that this branch of science is making far greater contributions to unraveling the animal mind than behaviorism or biology. We should note that all these contributions end up verifying the role that attraction plays, even though this may not be enunciated directly.

  6. b... says:

    Thanks for the great elaboration. Now that I think about it, during play bow is the only time I’ve heard the metered bark in some dogs.

    What conclusion can we draw about a dog that regularly bows and barks at humans, but consistently overloads (approaches, barks, and snaps if there’s no momentum (chases and licks genitals if there is)) with other dogs?

    As for physics, it seems only natural that it would be most compatible with innate attraction since magnetism is a core principle. It’s there in chemistry too, really. By comparison, I think biology and behaviorism in their current state seem like woo-woo mystical thinking, as they say.

  7. Kevin Behan says:

    The dog that bows and barks at humans, and then has a snapping history with dogs when there isn’t enough flow, both of these indicate the same low threshold. What is different is the degree of force in play, the strength of the attraction. So it is low drive with humans and isn’t contending with such a strong force of collapse, but because it has experienced so much prey-making in dog play, there is more energy to contend with and so we observe a more aggressive expression when blocked, as opposed to the “playful” manifestation with humans, in order to prevent the collapse.

  8. Julie Forlizzo says:

    Kevin, your reply to the question “b” asked is Traverse (Orlando) to a T. Troublesome.

  9. b... says:

    OK, that makes sense. But then I’m struggling with this other description of low threshold that seems like another explanation for a similar response but without the historical prey-making imprint:

    “At the other end of the spectrum are the sporting breeds that equate human with access to the flow, and in the hunt the human does the killing. So we see that this dog has a very low prey threshold in that it can perceive something “positive” (i.e. prey-like) in humans, and so the human’s predatory aspect equals access to their preyful aspect, this by the same token has the equal/opposite effect of magnifying its inhibition to the predatory aspect of the prey,”

    How does the same mechanism that amplifies a human’s preyful aspect over their predatory aspect (and thus elicit a play bow?) also amplify a prey animal’s (e.g., another dog’s?) predatory aspect over their preyful aspect?

  10. Kevin Behan says:

    b … “How does the same mechanism that amplifies a human’s preyful aspect over their predatory aspect (and thus elicit a play bow?) also amplify a prey animal’s (e.g., another dog’s?) predatory aspect over their preyful aspect?”

    There is a lot going on in this question and brings us to the heart of a system’s logic, a “swarm intelligence,” as opposed to an individuated logic and I want to introduce as little jargon as possible. First of all this is also asking, what is the distinction between prey threshold, running from low to high, and emotional capacity? To review, when attracted to something an individual associates its p-cog with said object-of-attraction because the problem of locomotion is always the first order of business and this Pavlovian weld (-), p-cog with attractor (+) is imprinted during infancy. It is so deeply rooted before all other levels of conscious awareness so that it is involuntarily engaged with every act of perception and well before any action can be conducted. For the individual to fine focus its subliminal attention on its p-cog as-a-point, it will have to emotionally couple with the object of attraction/resistance. Most prey-making behavior is instinctive in that it simply attempts to bring the prey to ground and rip it apart trying to get to that “point.” But with high emotional capacity dogs, they can transfer this point, what I otherwise call DIS (Deep Inner Stress, that last .01%), onto a MIDPOINT, so now in a much higher form of elaboration a system can emerge between the individual and the object of attraction/resistance (resistance being needed to summon up DIS from the depths- note that a best friend isn’t the most pleasant and fun person to be with, but it has to be someone who manifests some resistance, someone who has a point to what they do and will trigger ones’ deepest feelings, even though these may be seemingly unpleasant ones)——. The DIS projected onto the midpoint allows the system to elaborate into more and more complex expressions. I believe the high versus low prey threshold phenomenon represents the equal/opposite manifestation of this systems dynamic. So the high prey threshold dog focuses on the projecting/pushing phase of the locomotive rhythm whereas the low prey threshold dog focuses on the collecting, absorbing phase of the locomotive rhythm. The former suits getting the prey that fights to move, the latter suits hunting the prey that can take flight and escape to settle. These are the two complementary aspects of the locomotive rhythm that can be decoupled and apparently isolated and fixated through selective breeding. And I believe this is possible due to the phenomenon of sexuality, which is but another elaboration of the locomotive rhythm as organizing principle to physiology/psychology. So both kinds of dogs can be shaped to a high emotional capacity so that potential energy is rendered, but the former does better with high rate of change, i.e. great degree of intense resistance in one blast, whereas the low prey threshold dog does better with sustained effort over greater lengths of time. Because of this, both low and high prey threshold when cultivated to have a high emotional capacity, can weld their handlers’ attention to the midpoint of a system and be biddable doing the work they were selected to do. It wouldn’t be accurate to say man created this, it was instead a pre-existing capacity within all wolves to shift from high to low prey animals but working in a systems’ rather than a cat-like individual approach to prey-making. The confusing part is that the whole thing is an integrated system, so that within any litter of any breed we find a diversity of the prey threshold ranging from low to high, likewise the breeds sort out from low to high as well, so its’ like the Russian Doll nesting structure. Even species factor out according to low to high, so a moose has a higher prey threshold than a deer. Note that all species manifest their highest prey threshold during their breeding seasons and rutting contests, and their highest emotional capacity wherein they can wave-couple via locomotive rhythm (which we can see going on when deer play with dogs on You Tube) when they are at their youngest. As adults however they have to feel very attracted and very safe in order to recapitulate that infancy high emotional capacity wherein they can feel their play partner’s p-cog as an extension of their own. It’s one system dynamic that factors out, in my view, the phenomenon of diversity, variability, and this is why I think the term random is bandied about in discussions about behavior in a completely incoherent manner. Until we exhaust the system’s logic we shouldn’t be so quick to label anything as random.

  11. b... says:

    Feel like I’m still missing a competent here. Perhaps the question I should’ve asked is: Why is a dog that is sensitive to the predatory aspect in prey (like a bird dog) not also sensitive to, and thus overwhelmed by, the predatory aspect of a human?

  12. Kevin Behan says:

    Good question. The low prey dog, while inhibited by the predatory aspect of the prey, is still aroused because it needs less tactile input to feel grounded. It can project its p-cog into its form and still sense its body. It can see past its eyes, unlike a dog when it’s truly overloaded. (Note that most dogs quickly tune birds out because they become like chaff blowing about, the dogs can’t feel a preyful aspect to them since they take flight and disappear) Its DIS is tuning its nerves to the flight characteristics of the small prey and so from being able to feel grounded in its body, it is able to map its locomotive rhythm onto its movements. It focuses on collecting itself (point, set, stalk) in that phase of the locomotive rhythm. It is tuned to do this because of a low prey threshold. So for example, when dealing with a large prey when hunting as a group, it would deflect away from the quarry’s predatory aspect because it can still feel a preyful aspect to sustain the Drive-to-Make-Contact. Also note that the low prey dog while paralyzed by the eyes of the small prey, is nevertheless feeling grounded as well into the human hunter as part of the group. So in this way it’s just like hunting a large prey, but the negative as access channel has become the human. Likewise it is highly adept at mapping locomotive rhythm onto human characteristics because it is attuned to the comparatively small preyful aspect of a human being. Dogs with a higher prey threshold have a harder time mapping their locomotive rhythm onto people (hence making good guard dogs) because they need more preyful tactile input to become more aroused as opposed to becoming unbalanced. So a low prey threshold dog needs very little preyful aspect to project its DIS into a human and then feel conjoined. The high prey dog on the other hand has higher requirements and so the risk of collapse with a human is actually greater for it since it needs much more feedback to feel grounded. The high prey dog when strongly aroused, will strive to penetrate, (Direct and Active), i.e.. bite hard and will need careful schooling in order to get the deflecting and collecting aspects of the work (out, heeling, hold without bite, etc.). The low prey dog will be the equal/opposite, readily collect and deflect and the soft versus the hard grip. They are especially equal as well in the need for both to be steady under the gun, which thus reflects their high emotional capacity.

  13. Skip Skipper says:

    Would their be any value to teaching a dog to play/bow? Or would it just be all form and no emotion?

  14. b... says:

    OK, so is this an accurate recapitulation?
    I’ve added some speculative detail to help visualize the process, so please correct if it’s going in the wrong direction…

    The low prey dog is aroused by the bird. As it projects p-cog into and locomotes towards the bird, it is “tuning its nerves to the flight characteristics of the small prey and… it is able to map its locomotive rhythm onto its movements.” As the dog nears, the bird is pressured and approaches an internal tension threshold that once crossed results in flight. So they’re synchronized, and just like the bird tenses and stills just before taking flight, so does the dog become still at that point.

    If that threshold were to be crossed, the dog would give chase rather than take flight like the bird because the dog is still attracted to the bird (drive-to-make-contact intact) whereas the bird has collapsed and reverted to instinct -> flight. However, if the dog stayed soft enough and the bird had a greater predatory aspect(?) or higher prey threshold(?) or emotional capacity(?), it could perceive the preyful aspect of the dog and then might maintain drive/attraction to the dog and they might flip/flop and play together (as in the video making the rounds a while ago).

    This seems like it would explain the stalk/point behavior without bringing the bird’s predatory aspect into the equation. Or am I missing something? Why would the dog need to perceive an amplified predatory aspect to become still if its movement is already mapped onto the bird’s movement?

    Doesn’t a young bird dog chase after the bird until it “learns” that collecting instead yields success? And so couldn’t this learning be a process of sharpening the attunement to bird’s movement with practice? Or is it that the puppy becomes less flexible with age and increasingly sensitive to the bird’s eyes/predatory aspect and that automatically produces the paralysis?
    And that’s also why the high prey dog can’t synchronize with the bird – because it’s aroused and not deflected/paralyzed because it’s not sensitive to the bird’s predatory aspect and must make tactile contact, thereby always chasing and causing the bird’s flight and never achieving success with the bird?

    Also, is the bird dog capable of pointing without the human component? Or would it need to bring the bird arousal to ground without the human/group to conduct/absorb that energy?

    I may be muddying the issue with the all the variables, but I’m trying to sort out this component more precisely in order to put the rest together.

  15. Kevin Behan says:

    That’s an interesting idea, however my reservation is that I don’t want my dog making play bows toward me because it does mean a block. The dog is responding to the block positively to be sure, but note how many dogs take off from their owners after displaying a “play bow,” they’re strongly attracted, but strongly repulsed (in an electrical sense) at the same time. Whereas the collected or pushing actions represent the absence of a block and conduct all a dog’s emotional momentum.

  16. Kevin Behan says:

    Indeed, many variables in play.

    b… “The low prey dog is aroused by the bird. As it projects p-cog into and locomotes towards the bird, it is “tuning its nerves to the flight characteristics of the small prey and… it is able to map its locomotive rhythm onto its movements.” As the dog nears, the bird is pressured and approaches an internal tension threshold that once crossed results in flight (of the bird). So they’re synchronized, and just like the bird tenses and stills just before taking flight, so does the dog become still at that point.”

    KB: Yes, but we need to add that the perception of this threshold between the bird’s predatory and preyful aspect, in other words, the capacity to map the locomotive threshold between collecting and extending onto the small form of a bird, means that its micro-musculature tensions and releases (twitches/flutters/gyrations) induces a feeling within the dog that its own actual p-cog is moving within its body in mirror image of the projected p-cog (e-cog) as the bird becomes more and more prepared to explode in flight. This is a state of “emotional suspension” and so the dog is able to subliminally reference its heart and collects itself as the state of suspension will collapse when the bird takes flight. So this means that it takes much less “vibration” to induce a state of emotional suspension in a low prey threshold dog, and thus to neutralize all the prey’s movements into a composite value that resides in the heart and keys in all its social memories (thus allowing it to orient around the hunter). One could also say all momentum “nulls out” as the four momentum values of the emotional cycle will be manifested in the forequarters of the dog
    { > ^ v < collecting, extending, upward thrust, downward grounding.} The shoulders are loose in that they can flip to any polarity, or move with very fine dexterity, and which is also the essence of sociability. By the same token, the dog is more susceptible to collapse of a state of attraction which will cost it its ground. This in contrast to a high prey threshold dog that is polarized to be more into projection/penetration than collection/deflection and will fight to make contact with greater objects of resistance and thus harder to socialize. The other thing we can say about this is that DIS will be projected to the horizon in the low prey threshold dog, giving it a better aptitude for searching behaviors and immediately mesmerized by small prey flutter on the horizon, whereas for the high prey threshold dog DIS is projected into the core of the form, a penetrate to the core aptitude. We can see this clear demarcation between puppies in a litter, those who trend toward the outermost orbit, versus those that prefer to be in the middle of the scrum and get more tactile contact. b… “If that threshold were to be crossed, the dog would give chase rather than take flight like the bird because the dog is still attracted to the bird (drive-to-make-contact intact) whereas the bird has collapsed and reverted to instinct.” KB: Yes but it will only give chase a few times as Brad Higgins demonstrates in his gun dog videos, the dog will quickly revert to collecting to forestall the bird taking flight because the collapse is too pronounced. The dog has everything (DIS) invested in the bird and at the drop of a hat. A high prey threshold dog on the other hand will just learn to tune birds out and seek to project its p-cog into objects of more resistance, i.e. larger prey, things with more pronounced preyful aspects as it needs more tactile input to induce a state of emotional suspension. b… “However, if the dog stayed soft enough and the bird had a greater predatory aspect(?) or higher prey threshold(?) or emotional capacity(?), it could perceive the preyful aspect of the dog and then might maintain drive/attraction to the dog and they might flip/flop and play together (as in the video making the rounds a while ago). This seems like it would explain the stalk/point behavior without bringing the bird’s predatory aspect into the equation. Or am I missing something? Why would the dog need to perceive an amplified predatory aspect to become still if its movement is already mapped onto the bird’s movement? Doesn’t a young bird dog chase after the bird until it ‘learns’ that collecting instead yields success? And so couldn’t this learning be a process of sharpening the attunement to bird’s movement with practice? Or is it that the puppy becomes less flexible with age and increasingly sensitive to the bird’s eyes/predatory aspect and that automatically produces the paralysis?” KB: If the bird had a higher prey threshold, it would have a greater predatory aspect, and it wouldn't be so easy to put to flight. It would also have a higher emotional capacity because it would be able to project into greater objects of resistance and elaborate into a relationship with them. The confusing part I concede is that this universal code is one thing nested into another, so even low prey threshold dogs with high emotional capacity derive from the predator with the highest emotional capacity of all the wolf, and part of every wolves repertoire no matter where they fall along the gradient, is under certain circumstances they can too manifest a high prey threshold and sink their teeth into the large prey. When one has profoundly projected and elaborated with another being so that there is no line between them, even a "coward" would find themselves enraged enough to come to the rescue of their beloved. So it's all one thing, but domestication has isolated some of these components to the extent that they preoccupy the body/mind of a given breed, yet the rest of the code remains nonetheless. Each breed is a point on a circle of Temperament, just as each individual puppy occupies a point on the circle of Temperament and yet at the same time seeks to migrate around the circle to eventually get to the core. Because the low prey dog has committed to its emotional investment in the bird, its predatory aspect is already amplified to the point where the bird has a social standing so to speak. And yes a bird could easily exploit this were it able to sense its emotional leverage, but the pressure is too much for its capacity so that doesn’t happen unless as you note, some special conductive circumstance is supplied by external conditions, i.e. a bird is raised with a puppy for example and experiences that its projection of energy is absorbed by the puppy because it is so prone to collect itself and remain attracted. So there is a back and forth process of elaboration enabled in these specially conductive circumstances. The point/stalk is the fine tuning of the predatory aspect relative to the preyful aspect threshold within a state of emotional suspension. It’s a state of paralysis so to speak, which would be a problem if we were trying to protection train the dog, but its a dynamic state in its own right. The dog is bringing it “to a point” and is able to put out the most minuscule projection and receive the most minuscule feedback as an intrinsic reinforcement. The capacity to walk this tight-rope threshold value is akin to the sensitivity difference between a pianists control over their fingers versus an offensive lineman’s. b… “And that’s also why the high prey dog can’t synchronize with the bird – because it’s aroused and not deflected/paralyzed because it’s not sensitive to the bird’s predatory aspect and must make tactile contact, thereby always chasing and causing the bird’s flight and never achieving success with the bird? Also, is the bird dog capable of pointing without the human component? Or would it need to bring the bird arousal to ground without the human/group to conduct/absorb that energy?” KB: Yes the high prey threshold dog can’t synchronize because the tactile input it needs to achieve suspension and have all four polarities available (> ^ v <) is much higher, so it will plow ahead oblivious and quickly grow tired of the frustration. Plus, the collapse isn’t so shocking to it as it’s not as mesmerized and sucked in.

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