The influence of breed and environmental factors on social and solitary play in dogs (Canis lupus familiaris)

Lindsay R. Mehrkam, Nathaniel J. Hall, Chelsea Haitz, Clive D.L. Wynne

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

14 Scopus citations


The domestic dog is an ideal model species in which to study the genetic and environmental factors that influence play behavior. Dogs exist in a wide variety of breeds and frequently engage in multiple forms of play. In the present study, we investigated whether the levels of solitary and social play differed between dogs of three breed types with distinct predatory motor pattern sequences (herding dogs, retrievers, and livestock guarding dogs [LGDs]). Furthermore, we investigated how environmental factors (social and nonsocial contexts) influenced play in dogs of these breed types. Groups of breed-matched dyads with working experience and of equivalent age, sex, and neuter status ratios were exposed to four experimental test conditions and two control conditions in randomized orders. With respect to solitary play, environmental context did have a significant effect, with toys reliably producing the highest levels of solitary play across all breed types. Retrievers engaged in significantly higher levels of solitary play overall than LGDs, and there was a trend in comparison to herding dogs. In contrast, neither environmental context nor breed had a significant effect on social play levels; however, neuter status of the dyads did have a significant effect on social play, with mixed-status dyads engaging in significantly higher levels of social play than same-status dyads. Our findings provide experimental evidence for identifying proximate, environmental stimuli that reliably facilitate social and solitary play and discuss possible genetic (i.e., breed type) and lifetime influences on the form of play in domestic dogs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)367-377
Number of pages11
JournalLearning and Behavior
Issue number4
StatePublished - Dec 1 2017


  • Attention
  • Breed
  • Dog
  • Environmental
  • Predatory motor pattern
  • Proximate mechanism
  • Social play
  • Solitary play
  • Toy

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Experimental and Cognitive Psychology
  • Cognitive Neuroscience
  • Behavioral Neuroscience


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