Hall, Sarah L. Object play by adult animals. Bekoff & Byers (1998), p. 45-60.
Bekoff asked the following questions: (1) What proportion of bites directedto the head, neck, or body of a play partner and accompanied by rapid side-to-sideshaking of the head are immediately preceded or followed by a bow? (2)What proportion of behavior patterns other than bites accompanied by rapidside-to-side shaking of the head are immediately preceded or followed bya bow? Actions considered here were mouthing or gentle biting during whichthe mouth is not closed tightly and rapid side-to-side shaking of the headis not performed, biting without rapid side-to-side shaking of the head,chin-resting, mounting from behind (as in sexual encounters), hip-slamming,standing-over assertively, incomplete standing-over, and vocalizing aggressively(for descriptions see Bekoff 1974; Hill and Bekoff 1977). Not consideredwas the situation in which the recipient of bites accompanied by rapidside-to-side shaking of the head performed a bow immediately before orimmediately after its partner performed bite accompanied by rapid side-to-sideshaking of the head or other action, because these rarely occurred. Itwas hypothesized that if bites accompanied by rapid side-to-side shakingof the head or other behavior patterns could be or were misread by therecipient and could result in a fight, for example, then the animal whoperformed the actions that could be misinterpreted might have to communicateto its partner that this action was performed in the context of play andwas not meant to be taken as an aggressive or predatory move. On this view,bows would not occur randomly in play sequences; the play atmosphere wouldbe reinforced and maintained by performing bows immediately before or afteractions that could be misinterpreted.
One way to approach this question is to ask whether play signals suchas bows are used to maintain social play in situations where the performanceof a specific behavior during a play bout could be misinterpreted. A recentstudy of the structure of play sequences (Bekoff 1995b) showed that bowsin some canids, infant and adult domestic dogs, infant coyotes, and infantwolves, often are used immediately before and immediately after an actionthat can be misinterpreted and disrupt ongoing social play. Recall thatthe social play of canids (and of other mammals) contains actions, primarilybites, that are used in other contexts that do not contain bows (e.g. agonistic,predatory, or antipredatory). Actions such as biting accompanied by rapidside-to-side shaking of the head are used in aggressive interactions andalso during predation and could be misinterpreted when used in play.
TRAIN LIKE AN ANIMAL PLAY LIKE A BEAST
Train like an animal, play like a beast.
1 What do a ball-tossing rhinoceros, a backflipping monkey, and a somersaulting badger have in common? Just like children, animals enjoy playing. Lion cubs love to wrestle. They take turns playing the predator and the prey. Young mountain goats run, leap, and twist in the air. Youthful zebras skip, kicking their hind legs for no obvious reason. Baby animals spend hours and large amounts of energy at play.Play has long been identified as a potential welfare indicator because it often disappears when animals are under fitness challenge and because it is thought to be accompanied by a pleasurable emotional experience. But animal play is a vexing behavioural phenomenon, characteristically flexible and variable within and between species, with its proximate mechanisms and ultimate functions still not fully understood. Its relationship to animal welfare is therefore complex and merits a focused theoretical investigation. We review evidence on four aspects of the play–welfare relationship: first, that play indicates the absence of fitness threats; second, that play acts as a reward and flags up the presence of opioid-mediated pleasurable emotional experiences; third, that play brings immediate psychological benefits and long-term fitness and health benefits, and thus improves current and future welfare; and finally, that play is socially contagious and therefore capable of spreading good welfare in groups. On this basis, we argue that play does indeed hold promise as a welfare indicator and also as a tool to improve it; but we also point to difficulties in its study and interpretation, and identify some unresolved questions. As a welfare indicator, play may signal both the absence of bad welfare and the presence of good welfare, thus covering a wide range of the welfare spectrum. However, play can also increase in stressful situations, in response to reduced parental care, or as a rebound after a period of deprivation and therefore does not consistently reflect favourable environmental conditions. A better fundamental understanding is needed of the varied ultimate functions and proximate mechanisms of play, and the species-specific play patterns of captive animals, in order to be able to explain exactly what an animal’s play behaviour tells us about its welfare state, and whether and how play might be applied as a tool to improve welfare.