Domestic dogs are a highly playful species that are evidently sensitive to the attentional state of conspecifics as well as humans. Given that an animal’s social environment can influence play, audience effects may catalyze social play. While prior research has shown that intraspecific attention maintains social play in dog–dog dyads, it is unknown whether interspecific (specifically, human) attention maintains social play between dogs. Our objective in the present study was to examine whether a relationship exists between the availability of human attention and social play in domestic dogs. Familiar dog–dog dyads were exposed to three sessions each consisting of three experimental conditions that differed in the degree of availability of owner attention. Observed levels of social play were significantly higher during conditions in which an attentive owner was present than during conditions in which an owner was either inattentive or absent. Furthermore, this effect was maintained across repeated sessions. This is the first experimental evidence of an interspecific audience effect facilitating social play in domestic dogs. The availability of caretaker attention may be a proximate explanation for social play in canids that have ontogenetically rich histories with humans and also retain neotonized behavior as adults. Further research is needed to clarify the mechanisms contributing to the relationship between interspecific attention and social play in these populations and establish a more comprehensive understanding of play behavior in animals.
- Domestic dogs
- Human attention
- Proximate cause
- Social play
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Ecology, Evolution, Behavior and Systematics
- Experimental and Cognitive Psychology