Animal Cognition

, Volume 20, Issue 3, pp 553–565 | Cite as

A critique and empirical assessment of Alexandra Horowitz and Julie Hecht’s “Examining dog–human play: the characteristics, affect, and vocalizations of a unique interspecific interaction”



Horowitz and Hecht (Anim Cog 19:779–788, 2016) presented data about activities and vocalizations during brief videotaped dog–owner play provided by owners, examined these in relation to human affect during play, and made comparisons from their results to other research on activities and vocalizations during dog–human play. In this critique, I describe problems with Horowitz and Hecht’s methodology, analyses, and evidence; in their interpretations of the data, evidence, and categorizations provided in other research, particularly my own studies of dog–human play; and in their claims of novelty for their findings. I argue that, to support their ideas about vocalizations and play types during dog–human play and their comparisons to other studies, their study requires fuller descriptions and reliability for their coding of vocalizations and play types, appropriate statistical analyses, and accurate descriptions of prior research. I also argue that their methodology provides results strikingly similar in many aspects to those of other researchers studying dog–human play, contrary to their claims of novel findings. Finally, I examine their suggestions about relationships between human affect and types of play activities and vocalizations using the videos of dog–human play I discussed in earlier publications, discovering minimal, if any, relationship.


Dog–human play Human vocalizations to dogs Affect Teasing play 



I thank Emily Reed for her thorough assessment of the affect present in the videotapes of dog–human play, and Michał Pręgowski, Radhika Makecha, Karl Wuensch, Fran Dolins, Barbara Smuts, Ken Cheng, Alexandra Horowitz, Julie Hecht, and two anonymous reviewers for their advice about the manuscript.


This paper was produced without a grant or funding source.

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

Robert Mitchell declares that he has no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

In relation to my earlier studies discussed in this paper, all applicable international, national, and/or institutional guidelines for the care and use of animals were followed, and all procedures performed involving human participants were in accordance with the ethical standards of the institutional and/or national research committee and with the 1964 Helsinki declaration and its later amendments or comparable ethical standards.

Supplementary material

10071_2017_1075_MOESM1_ESM.docx (113 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (DOCX 112 kb)
10071_2017_1075_MOESM2_ESM.docx (113 kb)
Supplementary material 2 (DOCX 112 kb)


  1. Bekoff M (1995) Play signals as punctuation: the structure of social play in canids. Behaviour 132:419–429CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Brewer MB, Gardner W (1996) Who is this “we”? levels of collective identity and self-representations. J Pers Soc Psych 71:83–93CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Goode D (2007) Playing with my dog Katie: an ethnomethodological study of dog-human interaction. Purdue University Press, West LafayetteGoogle Scholar
  4. Groos K (1898) The play of animals. D. Appleton and Co., New YorkCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Horowitz AC (2009) Attention to attention in domestic dog (Canis familiaris) dyadic play. Anim Cogn 12:107–118CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  6. Horowitz AC, Hecht J (2016) Examining dog-human play: the characteristics, affect, and vocalizations of a unique interspecific interaction. Anim Cogn 19:779–788CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  7. Mitchell RW (1987) Projects, routines, and enticements in interspecies play between familiar and unfamiliar dogs and people. Ph.D. thesis, Clark University, Worcester, MassachusettsGoogle Scholar
  8. Mitchell RW (1990) A theory of play. In: Bekoff M, Jamieson D (eds) Interpretation and explanation in the study of animal behavior, vol 1: interpretation, intentionality, and communication. Westview Press, Boulder, pp 197–227Google Scholar
  9. Mitchell RW (1994) The evolution of primate cognition: simulation, self-knowledge, and knowledge of other minds. In: Quiatt D, Itani J (eds) Hominid culture in primate perspective. University Press of Colorado, Boulder, pp 177–232Google Scholar
  10. Mitchell RW (2001) Americans’ talk to dogs during play: similarities and differences with talk to infants. Res Lang Soc Inter 34:182–210Google Scholar
  11. Mitchell RW (ed) (2002) Pretending and imagination in animals and children. Cambridge University Press, CambridgeGoogle Scholar
  12. Mitchell RW (2004) Controlling the dog, pretending to have a conversation, or just being friendly? Influences of sex and familiarity on Americans’ talk to dogs during play. Interact Stud 5:99–129CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Mitchell RW (2015) Creativity in the interaction: the case of dog-human play. In: Kaufman AB, Kaufman JC (eds) Animal creativity and innovation. Elsevier, The Amsterdam, pp 31–42CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Mitchell RW, Edmonson E (1999) Functions of repetitive talk to dogs during play. Soc Anim 7:55–81CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Mitchell RW, Sinkhorn K (2014) Why do humans laugh during dog-human play interactions? Anthrozoös 27:235–250CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Mitchell RW, Thompson NS (1986) Deception in play between dogs and people. In: Mitchell RW, Thompson NS (eds) Deception: perspectives on human and nonhuman deceit. SUNY Press, Albany, pp 193–204Google Scholar
  17. Mitchell RW, Thompson NS (1990) The effects of familiarity on dog-human play. Anthrozoös 4:24–43CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Mitchell RW, Thompson NS (1991) Projects, routines, and enticements in dog-human play. In: Bateson PPG, Klopfer PH (eds) Perspectives in ethology, vol 9. Plenum Press, New York, pp 189–216Google Scholar
  19. Mitchell RW, Thompson NS (1993) Familiarity and the rarity of deception: two theories and their relevance to play between dogs (Canis familiaris) and humans (Homo sapiens). J Comp Psychol 107:291–300CrossRefPubMedGoogle Scholar
  20. Rooney NJ (1999) Play behavior of the domestic dog Canis familiaris, and its effects upon the dog-human relationship. Ph.D. thesis, University of Southampton, UKGoogle Scholar
  21. Rooney NJ, Bradshaw JWS, Robinson H (2001) Do dogs respond to play signals given by humans? Anim Behav 61:715–722CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Sacks H (1992) Lectures on conversations, vol 1, 2. Blackwell, OxfordGoogle Scholar
  23. Symons D (1978) Play and aggression: a study of Rhesus monkeys. Columbia University Press, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  24. Viera AJ, Garrett JM (2005) Understanding interobserver agreement: the kappa statistic. Fam Med 37:360–363PubMedGoogle Scholar
  25. Watson DR (1987) Interdisciplinary considerations in the analysis of pro-terms. In: Button G, Lee JRE (eds) Talk and social organisation. Multilingual Matters, Clevedon, pp 261–289Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PsychologyEastern Kentucky UniversityRichmondUSA

Personalised recommendations