cross cultural play signals
September 10, 2007 11:10 AM   Subscribe

Animals at Play: Stuart Brown, a physician and clinical researcher who founded the National Institute for Play, describes Norbert Rosing's striking images of a wild polar bear playing with sled dogs.
posted by nickyskye (25 comments total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
That's awesome. It's like a Coke ad come to life or something.
posted by jeffkramer at 11:19 AM on September 10, 2007

What, were you raised at the North Pole? Don't play with your food.
posted by DU at 11:28 AM on September 10, 2007

The polar bear returned
every night that week to
play with the dogs.

The week after that;
boy, did the dogs get
a surprise.

posted by yhbc at 11:35 AM on September 10, 2007

I kept thinking the polar bear was going to munch on the dog like a cat with a mouse. Very cool.
posted by Mr_Zero at 11:35 AM on September 10, 2007

According to the story the polar bear didn't eat the dogs, when the ice froze he left for seal hunting.
posted by nickyskye at 11:38 AM on September 10, 2007

Very cool.
posted by OmieWise at 11:38 AM on September 10, 2007

As someone who has no children, yet owns a copy of Little Polar Bear and the Husky Pup, I approve.
posted by Wolfdog at 11:39 AM on September 10, 2007

In case anyone else is looking for the pictures, they are under the "National Institute for Play" link. The first link appears to have bitten the dust.
posted by tomcooke at 11:59 AM on September 10, 2007

aww, Sad about the first link not working. Here's another version of the video at Vimeo.
posted by nickyskye at 12:03 PM on September 10, 2007

First link is working fine for me. If you're running a plugin that blocks Javascript, be sure to allow
posted by Malor at 12:19 PM on September 10, 2007

First link is back for me now too. Thanks!
posted by tomcooke at 12:26 PM on September 10, 2007

This really ought to come with a "Don't do this at home" disclaimer.
posted by CynicalKnight at 1:35 PM on September 10, 2007

Great post. Thanks, nickyskye.
posted by homunculus at 1:37 PM on September 10, 2007

Just lovely.
posted by CrazyLemonade at 1:51 PM on September 10, 2007

Wonderful post, nickyskye, thanks! I laughed when I read the part about the husky starting off with the crouched bow play posture (I didn't see a good picture of it at the Institute for Play site, so here). The crouched bow almost always works for me with dogs uncomfortable with strangers. Just get on all fours and then crouch back, with your arms out and head down. They get it at a very fundamental level, and it calms their fear down then excites them in a fun, playful way.

I never would have guessed polar bears would recognize and honor it, too. What a hoot.

Makes me think about what our understanding of nature would be like if documentary film crews spent more time looking for things like this than in splashing the killings and ruthlessness that boosts TV ratings. Anyway, I just stumbled onto a short article about play bows and ritualized communication:

As for the play bow, his guess that it meant more than just "Let's play" turned out to be correct. "It says, 'I want to play with you' but also 'I'm sorry I bit you so hard' or 'I'm going to bite you hard, but don't take it seriously.'" It even works between species: Bekoff has seen wild coyotes bow to dogs--and vice versa--before they engage in something like play. "At least they don't fight," says Bekoff. "The play bow changes the whole mood."

Meanwhile, dishonesty is punished across all canid species. "I know coyotes best," says Bekoff. "Coyotes will signal play and then try to fight or mate with others, but if they do that enough, they can't get other animals to play." Does that behavior rise to the level of ethics or morality? If morality is simply living by the rules of a society, says hyena expert Christine Drea of Duke University, then yes, animals do that.

Animals with notions of fairness? Outrageous!
posted by mediareport at 2:28 PM on September 10, 2007

What a nice comment mediareport, glad to hear your thoughts.

A friend recently visited with her 3 year old, male Chihuahua. When I took him out for walks it was astonishing how this little dog seemed to get just about ALL the dogs in the neighborhood in a playful mood, even otherwise surly ones. He'd get in that waggy-tailed tushy in the air, crouched bow position and somehow the other dogs would reciprocate. Never seen anything like it. It was lovely and quite amazing.

Dogs and cats sometimes play together, which can also be amusing because they seem to have similar play styles up to a point but dogs have longer patience-for-fun terms I think. Aesop's Fables come to mind.

Bears definitely have a sense of play. An old friend, a hunter, said he saw bears repeatedly sliding down snowy hills, kind of sledding in little groups. However, in this photographed story it was a surprise to see the wild bear and trained dog having fun. I wonder what other mixed species play together?
posted by nickyskye at 4:20 PM on September 10, 2007

ps In the photographs, doesn't that polar bear look like s/he's smiling?
posted by nickyskye at 4:21 PM on September 10, 2007

Very cool post... My dog does the play posture when she knows she's done something naughty, almost as if to say "Aww, gee, I was just playing!"... She also does the play posture toward the cats, and so far only one has responded positively, allowing herself to be wrestled with. The other two cats are still in "I detest this other creature!" mode.
posted by amyms at 4:49 PM on September 10, 2007

Great post. I'm too used to the nature shows that whenever theystart with a 2-species shot, one of them ends up lunch.

So there is more to life than just fighting, screwing and eating. Who knew. Someone should tell my employer...
posted by Artful Codger at 8:11 PM on September 10, 2007

As someone who's met Norbert, let me say that he's one of the nicest people I know of and it's neat to see him featured here in the blue.
posted by now i'm piste at 8:30 PM on September 10, 2007

And Stuart Brown is a very pleasant person as well. A longer version of the talk a with a few more pictures of other animals can be found in the TED2006 QuickTime link mid-page on the National Institute for Play site.
posted by keds at 11:02 PM on September 11, 2007

The Big Kiss
posted by homunculus at 4:20 PM on September 13, 2007

The dog's name was Hudson and he died of a heart attack at age 10.
posted by KathyK at 10:30 AM on September 26, 2007

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