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All work and all play makes Fido a very good boy

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Working dog breeds aren't just hard workers, they're also the most playful breeds, according to Swedish and Hungarian researchers. They analysed a Swedish database of data on how playful 132 different breeds are with their owners and other people, and found herding and sporting breeds are the most playful, more so than non-sport and toy breeds. This is probably because play behaviour was very important during the domestication and breeding of working dogs, encouraging a strong bond between the dogs and their handlers, they say.

Journal/conference: Biology Letters

Link to research (DOI): 10.1098/rsbl.2020.0366

Organisation/s: Stockholm University, Sweden

Funder: L.Z.G. was supported by funds from the Ministry of Economy and Competitiveness in Spain (CGL2015-70639-P) and the National Research, the Development and Innovation Office in Hungary (K115970). E.K. received funding from the European Research Council (ERC) under the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme (grant agreement no. 680040), from the János Bolyai Research Scholarship of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences, and ÚNKP-18-4 New National Excellence Program of the Ministry of Human Capacities. N.K. was funded by the Swedish Research Council (grant no. 2016-03435). A.M. received funding from MTA-ELTE Comparative Ethology Research Group (grant no. MTA01 031).

Media release

From: The Royal Society

The link between selection for function and human-directed play behavior in dogs

Playful pups – Playing with humans may have accelerated domestic dog evolution. In this study, an analysis of behaviours from the Swedish Dog Mentality Project showed that while ancestor dogs already displayed human-directed play behaviour, herding and sporting breeds engage in more human play than toy and non-sport breeds. The strong bond required between dog and handler in working dogs could be strengthened with frequent play, the authors said.

Why do some dog breeds appear to be more playful with their owners and other people than others? In this study, we investigated if different breed functions are linked to human-directed play behaviour. Using a unique Swedish database with data on how playful breeds are with their owners and other people, we analysed the level of human directed play behaviour among diferent breed functions in 132 breeds. We found that breeds that normally work closely with their owners, Herding and Sporting breeds, had the highest levels of play. Our results suggest that play behaviour has been very important during the domestication and breeding of specific dog functions.

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