Animals utilize behavioral signals across a range of different contexts in order to communicate with others and produce probable behavioral outcomes. During play animals frequently adopt action patterns used in other contexts. Researchers have therefore hypothesized that play signals have evolved to clarify communicative intent. One highly stereotyped play signal is the canid play bow, but its function remains contested. In order to clarify how canid puppies use play bows, we used data on play bows in immature wolves (ages 2.7-7.8 months) and dogs (ages 2 to 5 months) to test hypotheses evaluated in a previous study of adult dogs. We found that young dogs used play bows similarly to adult dogs; play bows most often occurred after a brief pause in play followed by complementary highly active play states. However, while the relative number of play bows and total observation time was similar between dog and wolf puppies, wolves did not follow this behavioral pattern, as play bows were unsuccessful in eliciting further play activity by the partner. While some similarities for the function of play bows in dog and wolf puppies were documented, it appears that play bows may function differently in wolf puppies in regards to re-initiating play.
Byosiere, S.-E., Espinosa, J., Marshall-Pescini, S., Smuts, B., & Range, F. (2016). Investigating the Function of Play Bows in Dog and Wolf Puppies (Canis lupus familiaris, Canis lupus occidentalis). PloS One, 11(12), e0168570. https://doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0168570