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It started when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media...


15 January 2013

The feeling of play

Hi there Mia,

2013 is looking pretty good! I loved your recent post on motor, sensory and structural aspects of laterality in dogs. This is the type of research that gets me going. Who would think any information could come from this, and then... Tada!!!
Dogs with clockwise chest whorls were more likely 'right-pawed'

Feels like play
Project: Play with Your Dog is going well! We’re getting loads of submissions from people across the globe, and we'll be collecting submissions through Spring 2013. It’s exciting that people are opening up and sharing little tidbits into how they interact with their dogs. 

Bark magazine blogger, JoAnna Lou recently gave the study a shout out, and that has definitely resulted in the submission of more videos!

One of the best parts of watching the videos is seeing all the different ways that dogs and people enjoy one another. Play is such a unique exchange, and from one dyad to the next, it can look so different. One reason that play is so varied is that play pulls from so many different cognitive arenas like memory, attention, synchronized behavior and timing. Play between dogs and people can sometimes look so fluid that it’s almost like watching water ballet (not that I watch much water ballet). Some play incorporates routines like tug, chase or fetch, and other players create their own rituals and activities.

The feeling of anticipation
The other thing I love about play is the overarching feelings of excitement, joy and anticipation -- with anticipation probably being my favorite. Play with my cat Josh is mostly about anticipation (And as you know, Josh is behind the world famous Tumblr page, The page hasn’t been updated in a month, which is probably a good thing). 

At various times in the day, Josh will dash into the bedroom, bound onto the bed, and assume his crouching pose that indicates -- It’s play time! Come and get me! When I jump up, he takes off running down the hall. I get a kick out of it, and based on his behavior, I assume he gets a kick out of it too.

In fact, play is often used as an indicator of “positive welfare.” How do we know whether an animal -- or a group of animals -- is doing well, feeling good, and generally happy? How do we explore their welfare? If animals have the time, energy and overall fitness to play, it's often assumed their basic biological functions and physiological needs are met. So a playing animal could indicate that an animal is doing well physiologically and emotionally.

Mia, you’re preparing to speak on the topic of emotional states and working dogs at a really interesting conference organized by
RSPCA Australia: When coping is not enough - Promoting positive welfare states in animals. Do working dogs get time to play? What else will you be talking about? Tell tell!

Happy 2013! Let play (and happiness) reign!


Boissy A., Manteuffel G., Jensen M.B., Moe R.O., Spruijt B., Keeling L.J., Winckler C., Forkman B., Dimitrov I. & Langbein J. & (2007). Assessment of positive emotions in animals to improve their welfare, Physiology & Behavior, 92 (3) 375-397. DOI:

© Julie Hecht 2013
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