Dogs and wolves – fascinating research.

Something new to learn every day!

I have been saving this report for a few weeks.  Following yesterday’s great news about the latest concerning wolves in Oregon, today seemed a perfect follow-on with a report first published in online journal PLOS ONE. However, what follows is a full republication of the report as I read it on the Science Daily website.

ooOOoo

Teaching young wolves new tricks: Wolves are considerably better imitators than dogs

Date: January 31, 2014

Source: Veterinärmedizinische Universität Wien

Summary: Although wolves and dogs are closely related, they show some striking differences. Scientists have undertaken experiments that suggest that wolves observe one another more closely than dogs and so are better at learning from one another. The scientists believe that cooperation among wolves is the basis of the understanding between dogs and humans.

Wolves are considerably better imitators than dogs. Credit: Walter Vorbeck
Wolves are considerably better imitators than dogs.
Credit: Walter Vorbeck

Although wolves and dogs are closely related, they show some striking differences. Scientists from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna have undertaken experiments that suggest that wolves observe one another more closely than dogs and so are better at learning from one another. The scientists believe that cooperation among wolves is the basis of the understanding between dogs and humans.

Their findings have been published in the online journal PLOS ONE.

Wolves were domesticated more than 15,000 years ago and it is widely assumed that the ability of domestic dogs to form close relationships with humans stems from changes during the domestication process. But the effects of domestication on the interactions between the animals have not received much attention. The point has been addressed by Friederike Range and Zsófia Virányi, two members of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) who work at the Wolf Science Center (WSC) in Ernstbrunn, Niederösterreich.

Wolves copy other wolves solving problems

The scientists found that wolves are considerably better than dogs at opening a container, providing they have previously watched another animal do so. Their study involved 14 wolves and 15 mongrel dogs, all about six months old, hand-reared and kept in packs. Each animal was allowed to observe one of two situations in which a trained dog opened a wooden box, either with its mouth or with its paw, to gain access to a food reward. Surprisingly, all of the wolves managed to open the box after watching a dog solve the puzzle, while only four of the dogs managed to do so. Wolves more frequently opened the box using the method they had observed, whereas the dogs appeared to choose randomly whether to use their mouth or their paw.

Watch closely …

To exclude the possibility that six-month old dogs fail the experiment because of a delayed physical or cognitive development, the researchers repeated the test after nine months. The dogs proved no more adept at opening the box than they were at a younger age. Another possible explanation for the wolves’ apparent superiority at learning is that wolves might simply be better than dogs at solving such problems. To test this idea, the researchers examined the animals’ ability to open a box without prior demonstration by a dog. They found that the wolves were rarely successful. “Their problem-solving capability really seems to be based on the observation of a dog performing the task,” says Range. “The wolves watched the dog very closely and were able to apply their new knowledge to solve the problem. Their skill at copying probably relates to the fact that wolves are more dependent on cooperation with conspecifics than dogs are and therefore pay more attention to the actions of their partners.”

The researchers think that it is likely that the dog-human cooperation originated from cooperation between wolves. During the process of domestication, dogs have become able to accept humans as social partners and thus have adapted their social skills to include interactions with them, concomitantly losing the ability to learn by watching other dogs.

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Story Source: The above story is based on materials provided by Veterinärmedizinische Universität WienNote: Materials may be edited for content and length.

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Journal Reference:

  1. Friederike Range, Zsófia Virányi. Wolves Are Better Imitators of Conspecifics than DogsPLoS ONE, 2014; 9 (1): e86559 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0086559

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So if you, like me, are one of many people who believe that your dog knows what you are thinking, then we need to thank the wolf!

9 thoughts on “Dogs and wolves – fascinating research.

  1. So interesting… and as much as I love Dogs.. I loooove Wolves.. 🙂 and can see why they need to solve problems and learn quickly within their pack for their survival.. 🙂 Have a good weekend Paul

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  2. A few thoughts:
    1) I believe Neanderthals domesticated dogs. Prior to 35,000 years ago.
    2) With all due respect, dogs are degenerated wolves.
    3) Dogs are vastly less clever than wolves. They also have smaller brains (relative to body size).
    4) Once I nearly collided with a French wolf in the French Alps. Although I have met various WILD felids, charging elks, boars and other elephants in my life, including enraged baboons and demonstrating chimps, the encounter at close range with that enormous wolf struck me the most.
    I looked in his wide set yellow eyes, and I had the same exact impression as looking in a very smart primate eye.

    BTW, speaking of men and wolves, I have a post on Ukraine on my site…

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  3. Really interesting 🙂 I also learned that they will rely on their own vision and scenes more than relying on what we say or do. Im not sure if you have seen the experiment, but if you show a wolf you putting some food under a cup, and then covered the wolves eyes and moved the food. Even after pointing to the new cup with food underneath it, the wolf would rather go towards the cup it saw visually and will not listen or take note of your action, it will find it himself. A dog though, would go to the cup you point too, even if his eyes tell him differently. 🙂

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