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Examining dog-human play: the characteristics, affect, and vocalizations of a unique interspecific interaction

By A. Horowitz, J. Hecht

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Despite the growing interest in research on the interaction between humans and dogs, only a very few research projects focus on the routines between dogs and their owners. In this study, we investigated one such routine: dog-human play. Dyadic interspecific play is known to be a common interaction between owner and charge, but the details of what counts as play have not been thoroughly researched. Similarly, though people represent that "play" is pleasurable, no study has yet undertaken to determine whether different forms of play are associated with different affective states. Thus, we aimed to generate an inventory of the forms of dyadic play, the vocalizations within play, and to investigate the relationship of affect to elements of play. Via a global citizen science project, we solicited videotapes of dog-human play sessions from dog owners. We coded 187 play bouts via frame-by-frame video playback. We then assessed the relationship between various intra-bout variables and owner affect (positive or neutral) during play (dog affect was overwhelmingly positive). Amount of physical contact ("touch"), level of activity of owner ("movement"), and physical closeness of dog-owner dyad ("proximity") were highly correlated with positive affect. Owner vocalizations were found to contain different elements in positive- and neutral-affect play. One novel category of play, "tease", was found. We conclude that not all play is created equal: the experience of play to the owner participant is strongly related to a few identifiable characteristics of the interaction.

Publication Title Animal Cognition
Volume 19
Issue 4
Pages 779-788
ISBN/ISSN 1435-9448
DOI 10.1007/s10071-016-0976-3
Language English
Author Address Horowitz Dog Cognition Lab, Department of Psychology, Barnard College, Milbank Hall, New York, NY 10027,
Cite this work

Researchers should cite this work as follows:

  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Behavioral research
  4. Canidae
  5. Canine
  6. Carnivores
  7. Dogs
  8. Humans
  9. Interactions
  10. Mammals
  11. Men
  12. Pets and companion animals
  13. physical activity
  14. play
  15. Primates
  16. Psychiatry and psychology
  17. Relationships
  18. Social psychology and social anthropology
  19. vertebrates
  20. vocalizations
  21. Zoology