For Wolves Pups, Play Is About More Than Fun
Wolves are highly social animals that live in well-organized family units called packs. Cooperative living gives wolf families a number of benefits. It facilitates successful hunting, pup-rearing, defending pack territory, and more.
The parents (sometimes referred to as the “alpha” pair) are the leaders of the pack and they express their status with erect posture and tails carried high. The less dominant family members exhibit their position through submissive behavior. With lowered tails and posture, less dominant wolves acknowledge their role and rank in the family hierarchy. Pawing, tail tucking, and muzzle-licking are among the submissive gestures expressed by less dominant wolves. Although hungry wolf pups hoping to elicit regurgitation in adults employ these behaviors, they’re expressed by adults to function as a sign of affection and reaffirmation of their social status.
When seeking to play, wolves will dance and bow playfully. Playtime can also include a game of chase, jaw sparring, and varied vocalizations.
For wolves, playtime isn’t only fun, it strengthens family bonds and reaffirms social status within the pack. According to a new study published May 11, 2016 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE , wolf pups are more likely to play on equal terms with wolves of similar age. Authors Jennifer Essler from the Messerli Research Institute (Vetmed Vienna) and the Wolf Science Center in Austria propose that such behavior may act to reinforce the dominant adult and subordinate puppy hierarchy established outside of play, and hope that continued research in this area may provide further insight.
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