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Do dogs respond to play signals given by humans?

Nicola J.Rooney, John Bradshaw, Ian H.Robinson

Specific actions used by humans do communicate a playful context to dogs and can be described as interspecific play signals.

Why do adult dogs ‘play’? 

John W.S. Bradshaw, Anne J. Pullen and Nicola J. Rooney

“We suggest that the domestic dog’s characteristic playfulness in social contexts is an adaptive trait, selected during domestication to facilitate both training for specific purposes, and the formation of emotionally-based bonds between dog and owner. Play frequency and form may therefore be an indicator of the quality of dog-owner relationships.”

A comparison of dog–dog and dog–human play behaviour

Nicola J. Rooney a, John W.S. Bradshaw, Ian H. Robinson

“Overall, the dogs were more interactive and less likely to possess the object when playing with a person. We conclude that dog–dog and dog–human play are structurally different, supporting the idea that they are motivationally distinct. We therefore suggest there is no reason to assume that the consequences of dog–dog play can be extrapolated to play with humans.”

Examining dog–human play: the characteristics, affect, and vocalizations of a unique interspecific interaction Alexandra Horowitz, Julie Hecht

“Play may indeed enhance the dog–human bond (Bradshaw et al.2015), but based on the present research, not all play appears to be equal in its form, its characteristics, and in affect.”

So play gets more and more research, but what can we learn?

-Play with your dog will create a better bond.

-Imitating dog play postures can signal play to your dog

-Dog to dog play is distinct from people to dog play. Dogs tend to possess the play object less when playing with people than in playing with other dogs.

-Just because you think of it as play, your dog may not perceive it as play.