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You talkin’ to me? An assessment of commands as play signals during dog–human play

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During play with a dog, humans commonly command the dog to engage in particular activities. How effective are commands during play, and do they serve as play signals? To answer this question, I examined commands issued to dogs by 21 familiar and 17 unfamiliar persons who played with a dog, and the dog’s responses. Specifically, I examined dogs’ actions following commands containing the words (in decreasing order of frequency) come/come here, go get/get/go, give/gimme, bring, look, and drop, to see if they satisfied the commands and whether play followed the commands. Dogs more often ignored than satisfied most commands during play interactions, and more often played than not following commands. However, dogs playing after commands as often satisfied as ignored a command, suggesting that commands do not serve as play signals. Play activity dogs were engaged in following commands, most commonly object-keepaway and chase the object, resulted in actions (e.g., getting closer or farther away from the play partner) that could either satisfy or not satisfy a given command. Commands were likely a response to dogs’ activities, spoken to direct a dog to engage in a particular activity or exhort the dog to continue engaging in an activity that supported the human’s play activities, rather than a play signal.

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I greatly appreciate the assistance of Molly King, Shelby Strong, Brian Keller, Kelcie Brophy, Michelle Smith, Lisa Kay, the reviewers and editors, and the players in this study.


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Correspondence to Robert W. Mitchell.

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Mitchell, R.W. You talkin’ to me? An assessment of commands as play signals during dog–human play. Anim Cogn 24, 329–339 (2021).

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