Motivation, development and object play: comparative perspectives with lessons from dogs

in Behaviour
No Access
Get Access to Full Text
Rent on DeepDyve

Have an Access Token?

Enter your access token to activate and access content online.

Please login and go to your personal user account to enter your access token.


Have Institutional Access?

Access content through your institution. Any other coaching guidance?


Object play occurs in diverse animals in addition to birds and mammals. Although many carnivores engage in object play in a predatory context, many non-predators do so also. Conjectures over the years on the motivation to play are reviewed dealing with intrinsic, developmental, and stimulus factors. We then report on quantitative studies of the play of puppies from 6 litters (3 breeds) when given 5 different toys with different sensory and functional properties at half week intervals from 3 to 7 weeks of age. The propensity to engage with objects begins early, play complexity increases rapidly, the structure of the play is similar to adult object play, and breed differences were found. Object play with predatory characteristics appears before weaning, suggesting that hunger is not the primary motivation. Studying the development of object play in different dog breeds may be useful in addressing questions of domestication and play evolution.

Motivation, development and object play: comparative perspectives with lessons from dogs

in Behaviour



AchterbergE.J.M.van KerkhofL.W.M.ServadioM.van SwietenM.H.HouwingD.J.AalderinkM.DrielN.V.TrezzaV.VanderschurenL.J.M.J. (2016). Contrasting roles of dopamine and noradrenaline in the motivational properties of social play behavior in rats. — Neuropsychopharmacology 41: 858-868.

AldisO. (1975). Playfighting. — Academic PressNew York, NY.

AndersonC.YngvessonJ.BoissyA.Uvnäs-MobergK. (2015). Behavioural expression of positive anticipation for food or opportunity to play in lambs. — Behav. Proc. 113: 152-158.

AugustineL.MillerK.BurghardtG.M. (2015). Crocodylus rhombifer (Cuban crocodile): play behavior. — Herpetol. Rev. 46: 208-209.

BatesonP. (1981). Discontinuities in development and changes in the organization of play in cats. — In: Behavioral development: the Bielefeld interdisciplinary project ( ImmelmannK.BarlowG.W.PetrinovichL.MainM. eds). Cambridge University PressCambridge p.  281-295.

BeachF.A. (1945). Current concepts of play in animals. — Am. Nat. 79: 523-541.

BekoffM.ByersJ.A. (1981). A critical reanalysis of the ontogeny and phylogeny of mammalian social and locomotor play: an ethological hornet’s nest. — In: Behavioral development: the Bielefeld interdisciplinary project ( ImmelmannK.BarlowG.W.PetrinovichL.MainM. eds). Cambridge University PressCambridge p.  296-337.

BerlyneD.E. (1960). Conflict arousal and curiosity. — McGraw-HillNew York, NY.

BibenM. (1982). Object play and social treatment of prey in bush dogs and crab-eating foxes. — Behaviour 79: 201-211.

BradshawJ.W.S.CaseyR.A.BrownS.L. (2012). The behaviour of the domestic cat. — CABIBoston, MA.

BradshawJ.W.S.PullenA.J.RooneyN.J. (2015). Why do adult dogs ‘play’?Behav. Proc. 110: 82-87.

BurghardtG.M. (1973). Instinct and innate behavior: toward an ethological psychology. — In: The study of behavior: learning motivation emotion and instinct ( NevinJ.A.ReynoldsG.S. eds). Scott, ForesmanGlenview, IL p.  322-400.

BurghardtG.M. (2005). The genesis of animal play: testing the limits. — MIT PressCambridge, MA.

BurghardtG.M. (2015). Play in fishes, frogs, and reptiles. — Curr. Biol. 25: R9-R10.

BurghardtG.M.BowersR.I. (in press). From instinct to behavior systems: an integrated approach to ethological psychology. — In: APA handbook of comparative psychologyVol. 1. Concepts history and methods ( CallJ.BurghardtG.M.PepperbergI.SnowdonC.ZentallT. eds). American Psychological AssociationWashington, DC.

BurghardtG.M.ChiszarD.MurphyJ.B.RomanoJ.WalshT.ManrodJ. (2002). Behavioral complexity, behavioral development and play. — In: Komodo dragons: biology and conservation ( la PanouseC.WalshT. eds). Smithsonian PressWashington, DC p.  78-117.

BurghardtG.M.DinetsV.MurphyJ.B. (2015). Highly repetitive object play in a cichlid fish (Tropheus duboisi). — Ethology 120: 1-7.

BurghardtG.M.WardB.RosccoeR. (1996). Problem of reptile play: environmental enrichment and play behavior in a captive Nile soft-shelled turtle (Trionyx triunguis). — Zoo. Biol. 15: 223-238.

ButlerR.A. (1960). Acquired drives and the curiosity-investigatory motives. — In: Principles of comparative psychology ( WatersR.H.RethlingshaferD.A.CaldwellW.E. eds). McGraw-HillNew York, NY p.  144-176.

ChalmersN.R. (1980). The ontogeny of play in feral olive baboons. — Anim. Behav. 28: 570-585.

CoppingerR.CoppingerL. (1998). Differences in the behavior of dog breeds. — In: Genetics and the behavior of domestic animals ( SerpellJ. ed.). Academic PressNew York, NY p.  167-202.

CoppingerR.CoppingerL. (2002). Dogs: a new understanding of canine origin behavior and evolution. — University of Chicago PressChicago, IL.

CoppingerR.FeinsteinM. (2015). How dogs work. — University of Chicago PressChicago, IL.

CordoniG. (2009). Social play in captive wolves (Canis lupus): not only an immature affair. — Behaviour 146: 1363-1385.

CraigW. (1918). Appetites and aversions as constituents of instincts. — Biol. Bull. 34: 91-107.

DinetsV. (2015). Play behavior in crocodilians. — Anim. Behav. Cogn. 2: 49-55.

Eibl-EibesfeldtI. (1950). Über die Jugendentwicklung des Verhaltens eines männlichen Daches (Meles meles L.) unter besonderer Berücksichtigung des Spiels. — Z. Tierpsychol. 7: 327-355.

Eibl-EibesfeldtI. (1982). The flexibility and affective autonomy of play. — Behav. Brain Sci. 5: 160-161.

FagenR. (1981). Animal play behavior. — Oxford University PressNew York, NY.

Feddersen-PetersenD. (2004). Hund psychologie. — KosmosStuttgart.

FowlerH. (1965). Curiosity and exploratory behavior. — McmillanNew York, NY.

FoxM.W. (1969). Ontogeny of prey killing behaviour in Canidae. — Behaviour 35: 259-272.

GroosK. (1898). The play of animals. — D. AppletonNew York, NY.

HallS.L. (1998). Object play in adult animals. — In: Animal play: evolutionary comparative and ecological perspectives ( BekoffM.ByersJ.A. eds). Cambridge University PressCambridge p.  45-60.

HarlowH.F. (1950). Learning and satiation of response in intrinsically motivated complex puzzle performance by monkeys. — J. Comp. Physiol. Psychol. 43: 289-294.

HarlowH.F. (1953). Mice, monkeys, men, and motives. — Psychol. Rev. 60: 23-32.

HimmlerB.T.StryjekR.ModlinskaK.DerksenS.M.PisulaW.PellisS.M. (2013). How domestication modulates play behavior: a comparative analysis between wild rats and a laboratory strain of Rattus norvegicus. — J. Comp. Physiol. B 127: 453-464.

HoganJ.A. (2001). Development of behavior systems. — In: Handbook of behavioral neurobiology ( BlassE.M. ed.). PlenumNew York, NY p.  229-279.

HuffmanM.A.HirataS. (2003). Biological and ecological foundtions of primate behavioral traditions. — In: The biology of traditions: models and evidence ( FragaszyD.M.PerryS. eds). Cambridge University PressCambridge p.  267-296.

HuttC. (1966). Exploration and play in children. — Symp. Zool. Soc. Lond. 18: 61-81.

KäuferM. (2013). Canine play behavior: the science of dogs at play. — Dogwise PublishingWenatchee, WA.

KrauseM.A.BurghardtG.M.LentiniA. (1999). Improving the lives of captive reptiles: object provisioning in Nile soft-shelled turtles (Trionyx triunguis). — Lab. Anim. 28: 38-41.

KubaM.J.ByrneR.A.MeiselD.V.MatherJ.A. (2006). When do octopuses play: effects of repeated testing, object type, age, and food deprivation on object play in Octopus vulgaris. — J. Comp. Psychol. 120: 184-190.

KubaM.J.GutnickT.BurghardtG.M. (2014). Learning from play in octopus. — In: Cephalopod cognition ( DarmaillacqA.-S.DickelL.MatherJ. eds). Cambridge University PressCambridge p.  57-71.

KubaM.J.MeiselD.V.ByrneR.A.GriebelU.MatherJ.A. (2003). Looking at play in Octopus vulgaris. — Berl. Paläontol. Abhandl. 3: 163-169.

LarsonG.KarlssonE.K.PerriA.WebsterM.T.HoS.Y.W.PetersJ.StahlP.W.PiperP.J.LingaasF.FredholmM.ComstockK.E.ModianoJ.F.SchellingC.AgoulnikA.I.LeegwaterP.A.DobneyK.VigneJ.-D.VilàC.AnderssonL.Lindbald-TohK. (2012). Rethinking dog domestication by integrating genetics, archeology, and biogeography. — Proc. Natl. Acad. Sci. USA 109: 8879-8883.

LeyhausenP. (1979). Cat behavior. — GarlandNew York, NY.

LordK. (2013). A comparison of the sensory development of wolves (Canis lupus lupus) and dogs (Canis lupus familiaris). — Ethology 119: 110-120.

LorenzK. (1950). The comparative method in studying innate behavior patterns. — Symp. Soc. Exp. Biol. 4: 221-254.

MartinP.CaroT.M. (1985). On the function of play and its role in behavioral development. — Adv. Stud. Behav. 15: 59-103.

MatherJ.A.AndersonR.C. (1999). Exploration, play, and habituation in octopuses (Octopus dofleini). — J. Comp. Psychol. 113: 333-338.

Meyer-HolzapfelM. (1960). Über das Spiel bei Fischen, insbesondere beim Tapirrüsselfisch (Mormyrus kannume Forskål). — Zool. Garten 25: 189-202.

Meyer-HolzapfelM. (1978). On the readiness for play and instinctive activities. — In: Evolution of play behavior ( Müller-SchwarzeD. ed.). Dowden, Hutchinson & RossStroudsburg, PA p.  252-268.

MiklósiA. (2007). Dog behaviour evolution and cognition. — Oxford University PressOxford.

MitchellR.W.ThompsonN.S. (1991). Projects, routines, and enticements in dog–human play. — In: Perspectives in ethology ( BatesonP.P.G.KlopferP.H. eds). Plenum PressNew York, NY p.  189-216.

NahallageC.A.D.HuffmanM.A. (2007a). Acquisition and development of stone handling behavior in infant Japanese macaques. — Behaviour 144: 1193-1215.

NahallageC.A.D.HuffmanM.A. (2007b). Age specific functions of stone handling, a solitary-object play behavior, in Japanese macaques (Macaca fuscata). — Am. J. Primatol. 69: 267-281.

NahallageC.A.D.LecaJ.-B.HuffmanM.A. (2016). Stone handling, an object play behaviour in macaques: welfare and neurological health implications of a bio-culturally driven tradition. — Behaviour 153: 845-869.

PalS.K. (2010). Play behaviour during early ontogeny of free-ranging dogs (Canis familiaris). — Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 126: 140-153.

PaulusR.D.TroneM.KueczajS.A.II (2010). Play in wild and captive cetaceans. — Int. J. Comp. Psychol. 23: 701-722.

PellisS.M.BurghardtG.M. (in press). Play and exploration. — In: APA handbook of comparative psychologyVol. 1. Concepts history and methods ( CallJ.BurghardtG.M.PepperbergI.SnowdonC.ZentallT. eds). American Psychological AssociationWashington, DC.

PellisS.M.PellisV.C. (2009). The playful brain venturing to the limits of neuroscience. — Oneworld PressOxford.

PowerT.G. (2000). Play and exploration in children and animals. — Lawrence Erlbaum AssociatesMahwah, NJ.

PullenA.J.MerrillR.J.N.BradshawJ.W.S. (2010). Preferences for toy types and presentations in kennel housed dogs. — Appl. Anim. Behav. Sci. 125: 151-156.

PullenA.J.MerrillR.J.N.BradshawJ.W.S. (2012). Habituation and dishabituation during object play in kennel-housed dogs. — Anim. Cogn. 15: 1143-1150.

RomeroT.NagasawaM.MogiK.HasegawaT.KikusuiT. (2015). Intranasal administration of oxytocin promotes social play in domestic dogs. — Comm. Integr. Biol. 8: e1017157.

SchillerP.H. (1957). Innate motor action as a basis of learning: manipulative patterns in the chimpanzee. — In: Instinctive behavior ( SchillerC.H. ed.). International Universities PressNew York, NY p.  269-287.

SiviyS.M.CrawfordC.A.AkopianG.WalshJ.P. (2011a). Dysfunctional play and dopamine physiology in the Fischer 344 rat. — Behav. Brain Res. 220: 294-304.

SiviyS.M.DeronL.M.KastenC.R. (2011b). Serotonin, motivation, and playfulness in the juvenile rat. — Dev. Cogn. Neurosci. 1: 606-616.

SiviyS.M.PankseppJ. (2011). In search of the neurobiological substrates for social playfulness in mammalian brains. — Neurosci. Biobehav. Rev. 35: 1821-1830.

TimberlakeW.SilvaK. (1995). Appetitive behavior in ethology, psychology, and behavior systems. — In: Perspectives in ethology ( ThompsonN.S. ed.). PlenumNew York, NY p.  211-253.

TinbergenN. (1951). The study of instinct. — Clarendon PressOxford.

TrezzaV.DamsteegtR.ManducaA.PetrosinoS.van KerkhofL.W.M.PasterkampR.J.ZhouY.CampolongoP.CuomoV.Di MarzoV.VanderschurenL.J.M.J. (2012). Endocannabinoids in amygdala and nucleus accumbens mediate social play reward in adolescent rats. — J. Neurosci. 32: 14899-14908.

VanderschurenL.J.M.J.TrezzaV. (2014). What the laboratory rat has taught us about social play behavior: role inbehavioral development and neural mechanisms. — Curr. Top. Behav. Neurosci. 16: 189-212.

VincentL.E.BekoffM. (1978). Quantitative analyses of the onotgeny of predatory behaviour in coyotes, Canis latrans. — Anim. Behav. 26: 225-231.

WilliamsG.C. (1991). Natural selection. — Oxford University PressOxford.

ZimenE. (1971). Wölfe und Königspudel. Ethologische Studien. — PiperMunich.


  • View in gallery

    Time spent interacting with objects for 3 breeds of pups (Welsh terriers, standard poodles and vizslas) with data from two litters for each breed from 3–7 weeks of age. Line graphs include the mean and ±1 SE bars for each litter.

  • View in gallery

    Behavioural diversity across the three breeds of pups (Welsh terriers, standard poodles and vizslas) with data from two litters for each breed from 3–7 weeks of age.

  • View in gallery

    Time spent interacting with 5 different objects by vizsla litter 1 pups over weeks 3–7. The soft toys, squirrel and puff, were most preferred with the rope being in an intermediate category. Line graphs include the mean time spent and ±1 SE bars across individuals represented within the litter.


Content Metrics

Content Metrics

All Time Past Year Past 30 Days
Abstract Views 91 91 39
Full Text Views 139 139 58
PDF Downloads 12 12 6
EPUB Downloads 0 0 0