News - Wolves Lead and Dogs Follow

Wolves Lead and Dogs Follow

The wolf inside dogs makes the difference

Human social life would be unthinkable without cooperation. The frequency and complexity with which humans cooperate with each other are extraordinary, if not unique. We are also very good at not getting on with each other for extensive periods of time which I would say certainly is unique too unless someone would gently suggest an amendment to that statement? To better understand the evolution of this outstanding human skill, researchers have proposed dogs as a good model of human cooperation.

A recent study by Vetmeduni Vienna, published in the journal Scientific Reports, shows that the ability to work with people lies not so much within dogs themselves but in the "wolf within the dog" -- that is to say, in very specific behavioural characteristics that dogs share with wolves. The study tested the extent to which dogs and grey wolves collaborate with humans in order to solve certain tasks. The findings show that both dogs and wolves cooperate intensively with humans and are equally successful, although the animals attain their goals in different ways.

Wolves show more initiative

The two closely related animals show significantly different forms of behaviour. In their cooperation with human partners, dogs follow the behaviour of the humans while wolves lead the interaction: they are more independent and show more initiative. What it boils down to is while wolves tend to initiate the behaviour and taking the lead (excusing the pun); dogs are more likely to wait and see what the human partner does and follow that behaviour.

Based on the results of the study, the researchers propose that in the course of domestication dogs were selected for breeding because of their higher submissive tendencies. According to this hypothesis, this helped minimize conflicts over resources and ensured the safe coexistence and cooperation in which humans lead and dogs follow.

Forming the background to the study are certain fundamental considerations in the field of behavioural science. As humans and dogs have been exposed to similar environmental pressures, this could conceivably represent a case of convergent evolution. Some research suggests that dogs acquired specific predispositions for cooperative interactions during the domestication process due to reduced aggression and increased tolerance. Against this background, better cooperation with humans would be expected in dogs than in wolves. However, wolves are a highly cooperative species, working together to raise the young, hunt and defend their territory.

The research team therefore hypothesized that dogs did not develop any new traits during domestication, but rather that the collaborative skills of their common ancestors -- wolves -- form the basis for the evolution of dog-human cooperation (canine cooperation hypothesis). In contrast to the hypotheses of other scientists, the researchers from Vetmeduni Vienna therefore did not assume that dogs will outperform wolves when cooperating with humans. So based on the canine cooperation hypothesis, we expected that wolves would cooperate with humans as well as dogs if early and intensive socialization is given." The present study fully confirms this assumption.

For the experiment portion of the study, 15 grey wolves (11 males, 4 females, age: 2 to 8 years) and 12 mixed-breed dogs (7 males, 5 females, age: 2 to 7 years) were tested at the Wolf Science Centre in Ernstbrunn, Austria, where animals are socialized with people very early on and have close ties to them. The results of the experiment show that dogs and wolves, when socialized with humans and kept under similar conditions, work similarly successfully with humans, albeit in very different ways, which explains why dogs make the better pets.

This just goes to prove a point; if a dog misses out on early socialisation with humans (others than an immediate family) and misses out on the core socialisation of life itself it turns a puppy with all the potential in the world to a fully grown dog who has no idea of how to react in new situations. Recently we have taken back to our breeding kennels a two year male Sprocker who is at a complete loss with the world. This manifests itself by him showing either aggression or over the top excitement when he is faced with new experiences. The fact that he lunges at moving cars (and quite capable of pulling you with him if you are not paying attention) or charges barking at humans of any size is a very worrying trait and puts him (for the time being) held prisoner in someone else’s making. This will take a lot of work but we have been assured it can be done. In essence he is a kind hearted dog who has lost the plot at the time being. The fact he complete ignored the postman recently is a very good sign!

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