Wild Dogs at Play
Speaking of dogs at play, today we’re posting some excellent stuff from Wildcast, filmmaker Kim Wolhuter’s blog about work on his latest documentary project on African wild dogs:
First a clip of littermates packing up on a pup. What’s the point here? Well, what they’re doing looks an awful lot like the jockeying for position seen in the next clip which shows the pups feeding on an impala carcass. Is it practice? Are they testing to see what positions they hold in the pack? And how is the ‘victim’ chosen? As the narrator notes, he doesn’t really seem to mind playing the part.
Here’s another clip of the pups at play. You can see them chasing each other, wrestling and engaging in a rousing game of “I’ve got the stick.” I found it interesting to see how often they paired up in different ways during this play session:
Here’s an interesting clip that appears to show play as redirection. The mother dog seems to be trying to use play to take her pups’ attention off a carcass. Is her goal to get more food for herself? Probably not as she ate before the pups. Perhaps her goal is to keep their jockeying for position over the remains of this carcass from getting out of hand?
Is there a simple way to describe the rules of play? I think not. Play, like most intelligent behavior, is strongly controlled by emergent factors. Young animals at play are, in part, learning to affect each other’s behavior through a complex mixture of cooperative and competitive interactions. Some of these interections (like Puzzle’s redirection of the squabbling puppies) begin as independent actions and others arise though interaction with others.
In emergence simple interactions between individuals produces complex, yet organized, group behavior. The fact that such behavior is both organized and chaotic explains the unpredictability of animal behavior.
And – doesn’t part of the joy we find in play come from that fact that the rules for it (unlike the rules we have for work) are fluid?