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Watching young puppies that are still with their littermates and dam playing together can be really rewarding and highly entertaining, as you start to see each pup develop their own individual personalities and preferences.
Playing with littermates is not only good fun for pups, but is also a vital part of their early socialisation and learning process, which helps to teach them things like bite inhibition, when to stop playing, and how to get on with other dogs. These foundations then stand the pup in good stead for their future development, and ensure that when they get out there into the big wide world and start meeting bigger dogs, they know how to go about meeting and greeting!
As well as helping to teach puppies all of these important things before they even reach a few months old, watching puppies play also reveals a lot of other things about them and their interactions, which have been examined in detail by a recent study that was published in the journal Animal Behaviour.
The results of the study are fascinating for dog owners, puppy buyers and dog breeders alike, and its findings have given us a whole new insight into how pups pick their play partners, and even that male puppies will often “throw the game” and let female puppies “win” while playing, in order to encourage them to keep playing for longer!
In this article we will highlight some of the most interesting results turned up by the study in more detail, to help to give you an insight into how very young pups play and behave with others even at a very young age. Read on to learn more.
For young puppies, the desire to play and to keep a game going is more important than winning or becoming the victor in the game, which is demonstrated by the fact that stronger, bolder, larger or more dominant puppies will sometimes deliberately allow the other party to get the upper hand!
Nobody enjoys repeatedly playing a game that they can never win, and even the pups that are apt to be the regular winners understand this. In order to ensure that they can still find someone to play with, they will sometimes throw the game and allow the other dog to “win” on occasion, in order to keep them interested and willing to play!
Self-handicapping is a skill displayed by many species of animals, including monkeys and humans as well as dogs, which enables a stronger or more dominant dog to control and curb their behaviour in order to create a more even playing field with weaker partners.
The way that pups exhibit this can be very variable, and the skill is demonstrated throughout the life of the dog too, such as when playing with an older, slower or weaker dog in the dog park, and allowing the weaker party to stand a chance of keeping up or playing along.
This can take the form of bite inhibition, or controlling the power and strength of their movements when they play in order to avoid putting the other dog off. Often, this will take the form of a role reversal, in which the dog that is physically or mentally stronger will take up a defensive position and allow the weaker party to be the “aggressor” in terms of directing the tone and boisterousness of the game!
One of the most interesting things revealed by the study shines a light on how male and female puppies interact with each other, and how aware puppies even at this young age are of the differences between the sexes, and the fact that female puppies are now as strong or often large as males.
Male puppies show a marked preference for playing with females even from a few weeks old, and in order to encourage females to play with them and to continue playing after the first few minutes, will display the self-handicapping skills outlined above.
The gentlemanly behaviour doesn’t stop there either-male puppies will often initiate play with females by play-bowing, or rolling over to expose their vulnerable throat and tummy to entice the females to play, rather than using their greater strength to dominate the game.
When it comes to initiating play, however, females tend to be the ones that will try to tempt male dogs into a game, but are less likely to seek out other females to play with. Researchers think that this may be a way of making friends early on to avoid pushiness or aggression later on, and interestingly, females were much less likely to seek out other females for play than males.
Males too were less likely to show interest in playing with other males than females, and will often go to quite some lengths to tempt a reluctant female pup to play or keep playing!
Compared to monkeys and humans, the competitiveness of playing pups is much less pronounce-revealing that while for humans and monkeys, winning is the point of the game, for pups, it is the game itself that is the reward.
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