Friendship or Competition? Symmetry in Social Play within the Two Packs of German Shepherd Puppies

Animals (Basel). 2020 Sep 10;10(9):1627. doi: 10.3390/ani10091627.


The symmetry of social play in Canids has been previously studied, especially in wolves, free-ranging dogs, and within mixed-aged groups, however our study focused on symmetry and asymmetry within play interactions in two litters (14 puppies) of German Shepherd dogs (GSDs). At the age of 7 weeks, we evaluated 1287 dyadic interactions (litter 1: n = 339 interactions, litter 2: n = 948 interactions), and at the age of 9 weeks we evaluated 1255 dyadic interactions (litter 1: n = 433 interactions, litter 2: n = 822 interactions). Dyadic interactions were observed and the winning indexes were calculated for 43 pairs (dyads). The groups of puppies studied were all the same age, therefore we focused on the aspects of sex and body size as primary variables. The weight and chest circumference of all puppies were measured. The distribution of interactions showed a slight inclination to mixed-sex dyads, but we did not obtain any statistically significant results concerning the impact of body size on play interactions. Symmetry in play was observed within litter 1 at the age of 7 weeks and at the age of 9 weeks, and within litter 2 at the age of 7 weeks. Since the number of puppies in this study was too small, these results should be interpreted regarding this limitation, and cannot be generalized to a larger population of domestic dogs nor the GSD breed. In further studies, it would be interesting to compare larger samples of different breeds, under different breeding conditions, and the effect of the environment on the style of social play.

Keywords: egalitarian; social play; winning ratio.