SAN FRANCISCO —
"Dogs have an amazing relationship with us, and Marc [Bekoff] has done a beautiful job helping us understand them," says Brian Hare, a biological anthropologist at Duke University and one of the world's foremost experts on canine cognition. "Play gives us a peek inside their heads and helps us understand how they became the species they are today."
Hare, one of the first scientists to show that dogs could understand human pointing while chimpanzees could not, says that Bekoff's studies add a new dimension to the canine personality: Dogs aren't just smart, they're also emotionally complex. "That's why we can have such a deep relationship with them," says Hare.
It's also why studying dog play is so important, Bekoff says. It reveals far more than just the emotional lives of the animals involved. It could ultimately shed light on the evolution of human emotions and how we came to build a civilization based on laws and cooperation, empathy and altruism.
Play may seem a frivolous activity, but because it is not simply a survival reflex, it provides the best opportunity to explore who the animal really is, to peer perhaps into her soul. "When we study play in dogs," Bekoff says, "we study ourselves."