Ask first, be honest, follow the rules, and admit you’re wrong

by Bernie DeKoven on November 12, 2012

In his article describing this video,

Marc Bekoff shares some salient insights about the rules that keep animals in play – insights that reveal some basic truths about human animals as well. He writes:

What’s very interesting in this video from an ethological (animal behavior) perspective is not only do these youngsters play in a thoroughly friendly and fair manner, but they also use many of the same play signals to communicate messages such as  “I want to play with you”. These include the “bow” – they quickly crouch on their forelimbs and stick their butts into the air and then approach their playmate or approach and then rapidly run away – and what’s called “exaggerated pawing” or “paw slapping”, gentle enough so as not to scare off their friend, while still communicating their intention to play. These “universal play signals” are shared among members of a wide variety of species (see also and and and). There also some vocalizations, what people call “play panting”, that are also a typical part of the relaxed and contagious atmosphere of play.

The cub and the pup are engaging in fair play. I’ve studied social play for decades and have identified four basic rules for fair play, namely, “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. You can read more about fair play in an essay called “The ethical dog“.

Insight after profound insight, Bekoff brings us closer to each other and our world.


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