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Play Signals as Punctuation: the Structure of Social Play in Canids

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Actions called play signals have evolved in many species in which social play has been observed. Despite there being only few empirical demonstrations, it generally is accepted that play signals are important in the initiation ("I want to play") and maintenance ("I still want to play") of ongoing social play. In this study I consider whether a specific and highly stereotyped signal, the bow, is used to maintain social play in adult and infant domestic dogs, infant wolves, and infant coyotes. To answer this question the temporal placement of bows relative to actions that are also used in other contexts (dominance or predatory encounters) such as biting accompanied by rapid side-to-side shaking of the head was analyzed to determine if bows performed during ongoing social play are used to communicate the message "I want to play despite what I am going to do or just did - I still want to play". The non-random occurrence of bows supports the hypothesis that bows are used to maintain social play in these canids when actions borrowed from other contexts, especially biting accompanied by rapid side-to-side shaking of the head, are likely to be misinterpreted.

Affiliations: 1: Department of Environmental, Population, and Organismic Biology, University of Colorado, Boulder, Colorado 80309-0334 U.S.A.

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