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Analysis of the dynamics of the ontogeny of social interaction is of critical importance in order that behavioral development may be comprehended in its own right, and the relationship between infant and adult behavior understood. In this review, general concepts of behavioral development in mammals are discussed and analyzed, and the many variables that are involved are considered. When it is impossible to control or observe the social interaction of the developing organism in its natural environment, captive subjects should be used. There is increasing evidence that results obtained with the latter are related to social organization observed in the wild.

Play behavior is operationally defined on the basis of a comprehensive review of the literature and of personal observations of the social development of canids. The essential "'need" for social interaction during infant life is discussed, as is the phenomenon of behavioral neoteny. The concept of metacommunication, and its relationship to social development are analyzed, and the role of ritualization in the evolution of metacommunicative signals is considered.