Links between play and dominance and attachment dimensions of dog-human relationships

J Appl Anim Welf Sci. 2003;6(2):67-94. doi: 10.1207/S15327604JAWS0602_01.


It is often claimed that certain behavioral problems in domestic dogs can be triggered by the games played by dog and caregiver (owner). In this study, we examine possible links between the types of games played and dimensions of the dog-owner relationship that are generally considered to affect such problems. Fifty dog-owner partnerships were filmed during 3-min play sessions in which the owner was allowed to choose the games played. All partnerships then undertook a 1-hr test designed to measure elements of behavior commonly ascribed to "dominance" and "attachment." Principal components analysis of the data produced 2 dominance-related factors (Amenability and Confident Interactivity) and 4 factors describing aspects of attachment (Nonspecific Attention Seeking, Preference for Owner, Preference for Unfamiliar Person, and Separation-Related Behavior). Amenability, in particular, varied significantly between breeds. In the study, we then compared types of games played to each of these factors. Dogs playing rough-and-tumble scored higher for Amenability and lower on Separation-Related Behavior than did dogs playing other types of games. Dogs playing tug-of-war and fetch scored high on Confident Interactivity. Winning or losing these games had no consistent effect on their test scores. If the dog started the majority of the games, the dog was significantly less amenable and more likely to exhibit aggression. The results suggest that how dogs play reflects general attributes of their temperament and relationship with their owner. This study provides no evidence that games play a major deterministic role on dominance dimensions of dog-human relationships, but the results suggest that playing games involving considerable body contact may affect attachment dimensions.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Animals
  • Authoritarianism
  • Behavior, Animal*
  • Cooperative Behavior*
  • Dogs
  • Female
  • Human-Animal Bond*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Play and Playthings
  • Surveys and Questionnaires