Summer Reading: The Play Edition

Our summer reading list is all about play.

Articles about play in dogs, cats, rabbits, ferrets and people.
Photo: MyImages-Micha/Shutterstock

By Zazie Todd, PhD

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Why do animals play? In Dog Sense, John Bradshaw writes “In wild animals, play must promote survival; otherwise, evolution would select against it – a young animal that is playing out in the open is much more obvious to a predator than one sleeping in its den. However, the benefits of play do not usually become apparent until months later, when they emerge in the form of better social integration or more sophisticated hunting techniques (to name but two, which vary from one species to another). Again, the simplest explanation is that play is self-rewarding: in other words – it is fun!”

Our summer reading list includes links to articles on play in dogs, cats, rabbits, meerkats and humans. Enjoy!

Is your dog’s rough play appropriate? Barbara Smuts and Camille Ward, PhD, explain the difference between play fighting and real fighting at The Bark. 
Do dogs understand play signals given by humans? Stanley Coren, PhD, writes that the play signal most commonly used by humans often doesn’t work, while chasing and running away, bowing, and lunging have the best success rate. 


House rabbits like play too. Christina Chivers has some great ideas for logic toys for rabbits (with video).

Lynda Sharpe writes about the difficulties of studying play in meerkats and other animals. So you think you know why animals play...


Watch this wonderful enrichment activity for a dog. The bottle game at Tony La Russa’s Animal Rescue Foundation (video).
A couple of interesting research papers about play in dogs are currently open access at the links below:
Bradshaw, J., Pullen, A., & Rooney, N. (2015). Why do adult dogs ‘play’? Behavioural Processes, 110, 82-87 DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.09.023  
Norman, K., Pellis, S., Barrett, L., & Peter Henzi, S. (2015). Down but not out: Supine postures as facilitators of play in domestic dogs Behavioural Processes, 110, 88-95 DOI: 10.1016/j.beproc.2014.09.001

Zazie Todd, PhD, is the award-winning author of Wag: The Science of Making Your Dog Happy and Purr: The Science of Making Your Cat Happy. She is the creator of the popular blog, Companion Animal Psychology, writes The Pawsitive Post premium newsletter, and also has a column at Psychology Today. Todd lives in Maple Ridge, BC, with her husband, one dog, and two cats. 

Useful links:

You might also like: 
Six ways to entertain your dog indoors.
Does playtime for cats reduce behaviour problems?.

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