I've written a lot about play behavior in nonhuman animals (animals) and human animals (humans) (see, for example, here and here and here) and now a short video on ABC World News called "Cracking the Secret Code of Man's Best Friend" reveals some of their hidden language. It follows up on an essay in the Washington Post by David Grimm, author of Citizen Canine, titled "In dogs’ play, researchers see honesty and deceit, perhaps something like morality".

Play is fun but serious business and is not a four-letter word

Although play is fun, it is also serious business. When animals play, they are constantly working to understand and follow the rules and to communicate their intentions to play fairly. They fine-tune their behavior on the run, carefully monitoring the behavior of their play partners and paying close attention to infractions of the agreed-upon rules.

Four basic aspects of fair play in animals are: Ask first, be honest, follow the rules, and admit you're wrong. When the rules of play are violated, and when fairness breaks down, so does play. These same rules apply to humans. 

We can learn a lot about ourselves when we study animal play, especially how important it is for youngsters to be able to play freely and spontaneously (see "Does Play Matter?" where it is noted that play is not a four-letter word). Psychology Today writer Peter Gray's outstanding book titled Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life is a must read.

I hope that learning about how dogs communicate with one another using obvious and also very subtle signals will make you appreciate these amazing beings even more.

Marc Bekoff's latest books are Jasper's story: Saving moon bears (with Jill Robinson; see also), Ignoring nature no more: The case for compassionate conservation (see also)and Why dogs hump and bees get depressed (see also). Rewilding our hearts: Building pathways of compassion and coexistence will be published fall 2014. (marcbekoff.com@MarcBekoff

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