Wrestle or Fetch: Scientists Wants to Know How You Play with Your Dog

Researchers at the Horowitz Dog Coalition Lab are investigating an under-studied area – the way we play with our dogs – and they’re looking for dogs and their parents to help them out by participating in Project: Play With Your Dog.

The lab, based in New York City, is run by Dr. Alexandra Horowitz, author of Inside of a Dog: What Dogs See, Smell, and Know, is home to a group of researchers who are devoted to studying the behavior and cognition of our beloved canine companions.

This particular research project is aimed at examining the behaviors people use when playing with their dogs, as opposed to the behaviors used when dogs interact with each other, and how the rules are different.

Julie Hecht, who manages Horowitz’s Dog Cognition Lab, wrote in guest blog for Scientific American:

From prior research, we know that our play with dogs is nuanced and intricate; it can be anywhere from fast and furious to slow and methodical. It might incorporate balls, silly ways of walking, chasing or tugging and, of course, deceptive maneuvers.

We talk to dogs (a lot) during play, but our phrases and word choices tend to be repetitive, similar to how we talk to infants: “Bernie, come! Give me the ball. Drop. Get it. That’s it! Come! Give me the ball!”

During play, objects become interesting to dogs when they are held by a person, which is one reason it might be hard for a dog alone in the yard to just play with a ball. Tugging games with humans seem to be about keeping the game going, not about possessing the object. And when humans use play signals like bowing and lunging, dogs respond in kind, and play can increase.

Hecht also notes that play for social canids, which also includes wolves, is an important tool for dogs that helps them learn how to communicate and socialize with each other with behaviors that range from learning bite inhibition to acting submissive or dominant, especially early in life.

Project: Play With Your Dog is open to everyone, everywhere. If you want to participate, you can make a short video clip (30 to 60 seconds) of yourself playing with your dog, upload it to the lab’s website at DogHumanPlay.com and fill out a quick survey.


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Photo credit: Thinkstock


Michele Jones
Michele Jones4 years ago

My dog LOVES to tug. I wrestle on the floor with her rolling around. She catches the Frisbee, a baseball, and tugs at a rope I have hanging from a tree. She needs to tug to keep her teeth strong and clean, and needs to chase the ball and run to keep from tearing my house down. :)

Alicia Guevara
Alicia Guevara5 years ago


Carrie Anne Brown

thanks for sharing :)

Andrew C.
Andrew C5 years ago

Thanks for the interesting article.

Carole P.
Carole P5 years ago


Melania Padilla
Melania P5 years ago


Richard T.
Richard T5 years ago


ann b.
Ann B5 years ago


Ana R
ANA MARIJA R5 years ago

Thank you for sharing

J.L. A.
JL A5 years ago

play is important for all sentient species