Date of Award

Spring 4-28-2022

Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



First Advisor

Sarah-Elizabeth Byosiere

Second Advisor

Julia Espinosa

Academic Program Adviser

Diana Reiss


Play bows are a recognizable communicative signal observed in many carnivores, most notably, members of the genus Canis. Various hypotheses have been set forth to describe the function of play bows within canid social play behavior. To date, evidence suggests that wolves (Canis lupus), domestic dogs (Canis familiaris), and dingoes (Canis lupus dingo) use this signal as a means to both initiate, as well as, resume play. These studies have not previously been replicated in members of the family Canidae who fall outside of the genus Canis. In this study, I analyzed 21 hours of footage of African wild dog (Lycaon pictus) behavior at the Bronx Zoo, utilizing and replicating the methods described in Byosiere et al. (2016a). I found that African wild dogs, like other members of the family Canidae, use play bows as visual signal, as this study found, like prior studies, play partners were always visually attentive at the time of a play bow occurring. I also found that the overall function of the play bow in African wild dogs (Lycaon pictus) varies in its similarity to previously studied members of the canid family. Like all other previously studied canids, African wild dogs do not appear to be using play bows to clarify an easily misinterpretable behavior, nor do they appear to be using play bows to better position themselves to attack their play partner, as no overtly offensive behaviors were observed directly preceding or following the recorded play bows by the bower. As has been observed in other studies, it does appear that African wild dogs may be using the play bows to escape the play partner more easily, and to reinitiate play after pauses in a play sequence. The findings from this research strongly suggest that despite a distant divergence from common ancestors, genetics strongly tie members of the family Canidae morphologically as well as behaviorally.

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