When children play it is frequent that someone starts crying, suffers minor injuries and that they are intentionally mean towards each other (e.g., bite, pull hair, throws sand, pushes someone so they fall, wrestles so hard that the weaker part struggles with breathing and so on). On the other hand, when my puppies (or even adult dogs) play you never see anything like that. They tumble around and takes turns for who's on top. The only "negative" I have ever seen is when puppies with "flappy" ears play and someone gets hold of an ear with their sharp teeth - then the "victim" might scream, but when this happens the other dog immediately let go of its grip.

Children that play need parental supervision. Young animals that play manage fine without their parents.

Why are humans so cruel when they play compared to other animals?

(I'm not sure if this belongs biology, pets, psychology - if I picked the wrong site, please move the question to where it belongs)

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    $\begingroup$ I personally have seen dogs run whimpering and bloody back to their owner after play with another dog at a dog park went off the rails. I suspect your observation is just your observation, not a hard rule of animal behavior. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 17:19
  • $\begingroup$ @CharlesE.Grant Dogs can get into fights but that is not playing. Cats frequently fight, which most cat owners that let their cats out are aware of. $\endgroup$
    – d-b
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 17:41
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    $\begingroup$ So somebody says "things evolved that way because…" and that is regarded as a definitive objective answer. If I see amino acid sequences I can see evidence for evolutionary propositions. When I read incantations of the former sort — always presuposing the answer — it reminds me of when people would invoke God in replies. $\endgroup$
    – David
    Commented Oct 11, 2019 at 22:15
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    $\begingroup$ I am skeptical of every part of this -- that human play is necessarily violent or that animal play is different. Certainly in my own kids and their cohorts, "wrestles so hard that the weaker part struggles with breathing" would be appalling and highly unusual. Dogs are tamed animals; is play among young wolves non-violent? What about chimpanzees or baboons? $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 0:23
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    $\begingroup$ A litter of puppies start hurting each other (and me) as soon as they develop trazor-sharp teeth and nails, and do it over and over again. A good mom will only take so much before she distracts them, but as they get older, it gets worse, and God help them if they don't get split up before it really gets rough! (I used to breed Border Collies, the best dogs in the world but not the most aggressive by far.) Some babies kill each other (one bird will push it's nest mate out of the nest to secure all its food.) What's worse than murder? Rose colored glasses you have on, I think. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 5:17

2 Answers 2


This is not a complete answer, but I couldn't fit all of that in a comment. I also don't have any expertise in neither biology nor anthropology, so you should probably take this answer with a grain of salt.

As many others here, I'm not sure that adolescent animals are really less violent than children. I used to keep rabbits and although young bunnies tend to be less aggressive, sometimes there are exceptions. If not stopped, they can mutilate each other pretty horribly.

Still, there are lot of differences between humans and other animals that affect both human behavior and your perception of it.

Prolonged childhood

Compared to other animals, human growth to adulthood is very slow. Most other mammals progress from the short period of infant dependency (toddlerdhood) directly to juvenescence. (1). Humans have 10 years of childhood. Children are not yet fully developed, but they are already fully operational: can walk, fight and use tools. This stage is long and unusual. Other animals usually don't have a lot of time to play and be violent to each other.

Free time

Children have a lot of time to play and to fight with each other. Wild animals don't have this luxury, they have to hide from predators and provide for themselves. Less time in general means less time for play and fighting.

Pain tolerance

Children are not trained to withstand pain and tend to cry often and they do it loudly. Crying with tears coming out of the eyes is unique to humans and children cry in response to minor physical and emotional discomfort (minor falls, verbal insults). Crying child is likely to get noticed by everybody in its vicinity.

Wild animals have their own reasons to not get noticed and have to keep quite all the time, even after severe injuries. Even domestic animals have a higher sensitivity threshold and are less likely to vocalize in response to pain. Violent games between animals are less likely to be perceived as such because animals tend not to react "negatively" to them. Kittens playfully scratch and bite each other. Calves head butt one another with no mercy during play.


Bear cub is expected to play with at most a couple of siblings during childhood. Young wolf grows in a pack of 5-15 other wolves, most of them adults. Herd animals live in bigger groups, but they are mostly herbivores and less likely to hurt each other during play.

Children, on the other hand, are routinely locked in small areas with hundreds and thousands other children with little to no adult supervision. That gives a lot of opportunities to pick up a fight.

To make it worse, children have human intelligence and their social interactions are extremely complex compared to juvenile animals. This provides a lot of reasons to fight and to hate each other. Lion cubs can't speak and, thus, can't insult each others intelligence and physical shape. Young dolphins are unlikely to mock each others heritage, social background, religious beliefs, political affiliation or sexual preferences. Wombat joey probably won't steal other joey's bike, etc.

The previous paragraph applies equally well to adult humans. Human interactions are uniquely complex. Animals, young and grown, can be violent to each other, but our concepts of hatred and cruelty can't be easily applied to other animals.


I suppose you're right for the best part of it, however it comes to question the generality of your statement. Dogs do become violent while playing, as are other animals. Humans are animals too, what sets them aside are community ethics. Toddlers, on the other hand, are a raw product if I do say so myself, and are animals not yet accustomed to the norms of social law. Indeed, we are a learning species, we evolve as we grow.

  • $\begingroup$ Dogs (and other animals) are physical when they play but that doesn't equal violent. When I was a kid, as part of a game, I threw a stone at a friend. It hit him in head and he got a concussion. I aimed for the head so it was no accident that it hit him there. I have never heard of that type of accident among playing animals. $\endgroup$
    – d-b
    Commented Oct 12, 2019 at 13:00
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    $\begingroup$ @ d-b - Thank God dogs don't have opposable thumbs, or they'd be hitting each other with sticks as young pups.I don't know what you have been protected from, but your experience is not a universal truth. $\endgroup$ Commented Oct 14, 2019 at 5:30
  • $\begingroup$ @anongoodnurse What do you mean "protected from"? Dogs have sharp teeth and they (most of them) don´t hesitate to use them. Most animals have some kind of pretty good weapons, teeth, horns, claws you name it. $\endgroup$
    – d-b
    Commented Nov 30, 2019 at 18:01

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