Can cuddly cubs turn them into dogs? – American Kennel Club

The relationship you have with your dog is unlike any other pet. Although your cat or horse can read your emotions, no other animal reads human gestures like a dog. In fact, even chimpanzees raised by their mothers, one of our closest living relatives, can’t compete with dogs when it comes to reading the gestures we use to cooperate, like pointing. But dogs are closely related to gray wolves, so how do wolves compare in terms of understanding people? If wolf puppies get the same 24-hour human attention as dog puppies, can they also learn to read us? Recent research published in Current Biology from Dr. Brian Hare’s lab at Duke University has explored this question.

Dogs and wolves share a common ancestor

Dogs and gray wolves share a common ancestor and are so closely related that they can interbreed and produce wolf-dog hybrids. But how did dogs become? No one is sure, but between 12,000 and 40,000 years ago, dogs began to evolve from that ancestor of the wild wolf to today’s human companion. And this evolution has shaped not only the bodies and behavior of dogs, but also their brains.

What led to dogs’ uncanny ability to understand our communication gestures? Scientists have developed two hypotheses: the domestication hypothesis and the canine ancestry hypothesis. According to Hannah Salomons, a doctoral student in Dr. Hare’s lab and first author of the research paper, the domestication hypothesis states that when early dogs diverged from their wolf ancestor and lost their fear and aggression towards humans , they have developed the ability to read us. . This hypothesis predicts that in the current study, “we would see these skills in dog puppies but not in wolf puppies.”

The canid ancestry hypothesis states that dogs and gray wolves inherited these communication skills from their common ancestor. Thus, wolves should be as talented as dogs if raised in the same human-centered environment. Therefore, Salomons explains, “we would also see these skills in wolf pups if they had the opportunity to learn from experience with humans.”

cuddling wolves

The researchers tested 44 dog puppies aged five to 18 weeks. The puppies were all Labrador Retrievers, Golden Retrievers or Lab-Golden mixes from service dog lines. The puppies had many hours of exposure to human caregivers each day, but they lived and slept with their littermates. Most dog testing was done at Canine Companions for Independence.

The researchers also tested 37 wolf puppies in the same age range. The cubs all came from the Wildlife Science Center, and before participating in the study, genetic testing ensured that the wolves did not have dog DNA, but were instead of wild northern wolf ancestry. -American. To give wolves the same advantage as dogs, wolves were bred by human guardians. In fact, Cubs had more contact with humans than Cubs. The wolves were hand-fed, given round-the-clock attention, and even slept on or next to their keeper in the keeper’s bed every night.

Salomons notes that the hand-rearing of the wolf cubs was not done specifically for the study, but is part of typical Wildlife Science Center breeding practice — a huge feat in itself. She says: “Being able to test such a large sample of wolf pups was a huge undertaking that took our team over 6 years – only a few litters are born at the Wildlife Science Center per season, and despite being raised by Humans all around the clock From just a few days old, some of the wolf pups are so shy around people that they never warm up enough to the experimenter to participate in the study.

Test the puppies

Cubs and Cubs participated in several non-social cognitive tests of skills such as memory and motor impulse control. For example, they had to retrieve food hidden behind a transparent obstacle and had to go around the obstacle to succeed. In these non-social tests, dogs and wolves were equally adept. In other words, it’s not about one species being more intelligent than the other.

However, as soon as humans were involved in testing, dogs eclipsed wolves. A social test examined the puppies’ ability to read pointing gestures. The researchers hid a treat in one of the two bowls, then pointed and looked at the correct bowl. Even without any prior training, dog puppies as young as eight weeks old have chosen the right bowl. On average, dog puppies were twice as likely to get it right as wolf puppies.

Another social test was unsolvable. The puppies were given a sealed container that they had been able to open before. The container contained food and there was a person in the test enclosure. The wolf pups tried to solve the problem on their own, but the dog pups turned to the human for help. Another test measured how often puppies approached a stranger, and dog puppies were 30 times more likely to approach than wolf puppies.

According to Salomons, “The wolf pups were much more shy, especially around strangers! They showed less interest in humans in general, even people they were familiar and comfortable with. Puppies, on the other hand, were much more likely to approach and touch a person, whether it was a stranger or a known friend.

Wolf pups at the Wildlife Science Center in Minnesota, where testing took place.

Wolves Can’t Understand You Like Your Dog Does

Thus, it seems that the domestication hypothesis prevailed in this study. Despite their human-centered upbringing, wolves have not shown the same ability to read humans as dogs. And it’s not just because the puppies come from service dog lines. Previous research has shown that adult service dogs are no better at using human pointing gestures than adult companion dogs.

Salomons, who is grateful to the Wildlife Science Center and Canine Companions for Independence for making the research possible, wasn’t surprised by her results, as they match previous studies in puppies. “However, we were pleased to be able to clarify the results with regard to comparisons with wolves. Previous comparative studies with wolves had small sample sizes and conflicting results, so we were excited to be able to draw strong conclusions with the largest sample of wolf puppies ever tested on these tasks!

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