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LostInParadise's avatar

Do any animals other than humans enjoy being challenged?

Asked by LostInParadise (17724 points ) August 18th, 2012

For animals in the wild, survival can be sufficiently challenging without making things more difficult. Yet cats sometimes play with their prey, releasing it and recatching it. Since cats lack empathy, we can rule out sadism as a motivator. Is there a certain pleasure that the cat takes in the pursuit?

Young animals of many mammalian species wrestle with each other, but this seems to be more an exercise of skill and of bonding than an attempt to overpower the opponent.

Dogs like being chased and catching and retrieving frisbees. Do they see this as a type of challenge? If there were some way to allow the dog to choose between two types of activity, might it choose the more difficult one?

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13 Answers

CWOTUS's avatar

My dorg finishes the Sudoku puzzles that I give up on. Is that sort of what you mean?

She often finishes my sentences for me, too, which isn’t such a challenge with my limited vocabulary.

Trillian's avatar

Difficult to say with any degree of certainty. All we have is anecdotal, and we can’t really assign motivation or emotion. My cat acted like playing spin-the-kitty made her angry, but when I stopped she would throw herself under my hand again, I assumed it was for more.
She would sit on the other side of the door and reach under it and try to grab my feet, or anything that I would “accidentally” drop.. She would try for my fingers and pull away when I grabbed her paw, but she would keep trying.
I always felt like she got enjoyment out of the game, but maybe she was just testing to see when my reflexes slowed down enough to put phase two of her insidious plan into effect.

Lightlyseared's avatar

Well there’s squirrels and supposedly squirrel proof bird feeders.

dabbler's avatar

The parrot likes to deconstruct things to find out what’s inside, especially if she can eat what’s inside. But she’ll tear into something just because it’s there whether there is food involved or not.
She is at this moment destroying some perch infrastructure that has been using for a couple years just for getting around (involves a found smooth branch with rope wound around it for climbing traction). She never poked at it before but this morning has torn the rope away from it’s anchor screw. She gets an especially intense look in her eyes when facing a new challenge and she has a big dose of that right now.

marinelife's avatar

All animals do. That is why zoos have started challenging animals about getting their food and with play opportunities. It keeps them healthier and happier.

thorninmud's avatar

I wouldn’t think that a creature without a strong self-image would tackle something primarily for the challenge. The pleasure we get from activities like that comes mostly from the upgrade it gives our self-image. We add that memory of having done this difficult thing to our mental resume, and it makes us feel good about ourselves.

There was an interesting thought experiment I read about where people were asked this question: You can plan any vacation you’d like, but immediately after the vacation you’ll be given a pill that will erase all memory of it. How will this affect your plans?

In this scenario, people never choose challenging activities, like mountain climbing, or jungle trekking, because those activities are mostly unpleasant at the time. We do those kinds of things because we relish the knowledge that we pulled it off. Without that, we don’t find them worth doing.

Implicit in the idea of challenge, too, is the conception of “doing something difficult”. I doubt that this idea of doing something difficult really enters into animal play.

flutherother's avatar

It is the difference between freedom and captivity. There can be safety and security in captivity but freedom is a challenge that all animals enjoy.

DrBill's avatar

Horses, when in a race the horse will push itself to win, and they will run faster than when running alone

Ponderer983's avatar

@Lightlyseared Give us squirrels a “non penetrable” garbage can, and we’ll show you how to get to the garbage inside!

Linda_Owl's avatar

Horses are generally up for a challenge & they are intelligent (especially Arabian horses) that it can be a challenge to stay a step ahead of them.

Coloma's avatar

My goose taught himself to climb the stairs so he stand on the landing in my garage and honk at the door until I materialize with the magic BREAD! lol
Clearly it was a challenge worth mastering and it is hard to climb stairs when you have short little orange legs. He comes up, but I carry him back down. haha

filmfann's avatar

My daughter had an Australian Shepard. It got nervous and stressed out when it didn’t have something to do.

ETpro's avatar

My Belgian Shepherd, R1, had to have challenges and things to do. If I left her alone all day with nothing to do, she’d deconstruct things she knew I loved. Like she bit my rubber tree in half. Belgian Shepherds, Border Collies and such are herd dogs bred to work. They need challenges to be happy. Watch a good border collie herd sheep, and you’ll see an animal loving a challenge.

I recall an experiment with chimps where there was a banana outside the cage, beyond the animal’s reach, but there was a stick with a crooked end. Almost immediately, the chimp figured out that the straight end of the stick couldn’t drag the banana closer, but turn it around and the hooked end worked great.

Once she’d learned that, they moved the banana beyond the reach of the first crooked stick, but there was a second, longer stick just within reach of the first stick, and the chimp had to figure out that using the short stick to get the long one, she could still get the banana. Over a period of days they kept increasing the number of successively longer sticks and the chimp seemed thrilled at the challenge.

But they finally hit a limit—I believe it was 11 successively longer crooked sticks, and the chimp through a royal hissey fit. She got up to about 10 sticks then just threw the stick down and started screeching and raging around the cage. Enough’s enough, she was clearly saying.

Here’s a fascinating discussion of tool use among various primates.

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