Myth of tolerant dogs and aggressive wolves refuted

Myth of tolerant dogs and aggressive wolves refuted
Low-ranked wolves often defend food against their high-ranked partner. Dogs don't. Credit: Rooobert Bayer

Dogs are regarded as more tolerant and less aggressive compared to their ancestors, the wolves. Researchers from the Messerli Research Institute at the Vetmeduni Vienna question this image. They show in a recent study that wolves interact with conspecifics in an even more tolerant way than dogs, suggesting that dogs have a steeper dominance hierarchy than wolves. The results will be published in the journal Proceedings of the Royal Society B.

The good relationship between humans and dogs was certainly influenced by domestication. For long, it was assumed that humans preferred particularly tolerant animals for breeding. Thus, cooperative and less could develop. Recently, however, it was suggested that these qualities were not only specific for human-dog interactions, but characterize also dog-dog interactions. Friederike Range and Zsófia Virányi from the Messerli Research Institute investigated in their study if dogs are in fact less aggressive and more tolerant towards their conspecifics than .

They carried out several behavioural tests on dogs and wolves. The animals were hand-raised in the Wolf Science Center in Ernstbrunn, Lower Austria, and kept in separated packs of wolves and dogs. Range and her colleagues tested nine wolves and eight mongrel dogs.

Dogs express a steeper dominance hierarchy

To test how tolerant wolves and dogs are towards their pack members, pairs consisting of a high-ranked and a low-ranked animal were fed together. They were fed either a bowl of raw meat or a large bone.

While low-ranked wolves often defended their food against the high-ranked partner and showed aggressive behaviour as often as higher-ranked wolves, this was different in dogs. Low-ranked dogs held back and accepted the threats of the dominant dog. Overall, however, neither wolves nor dogs showed a lot of . If any, they showed threat signs.

"Wolves seem to be more tolerant towards conspecifics than dogs that seem to be more sensitive to the ", explains lead author Range. "This was shown by the fact that also low-ranked wolves can challenge their higher-ranked partners and the dominant animals tolerate it, while in dogs aggression was a privilege of the higher-ranked partners."

Myth of tolerant dogs and aggressive wolves refuted
Wolves are more tolerant towards conspecifics than dogs. Credit: WalterVorbeck

"When humans domesticated wolves, they probably chose the submissive animals that were ready to adjust", says Virányi. Dog-human interactions are more about living together without conflicts, not about equality. Their ability to respect and follow others made the ideal partners of humans.

Wolves are more tolerant than dogs

Dogs and wolves are rarely aggressive towards conspecifics. Range draws the following conclusion: "Wolves are already very tolerant to their conspecifics. This was shown by the fact that high-ranked wolves accepted the threat behaviours by their lower-ranked conspecifics in the feeding experiment. This tolerance enables wolf-wolf cooperation which in turn could have provided a good basis for the evolution of human-dog cooperation."

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More information: Testing the Myth: Tolerant dogs and aggressive wolves , Proceedings of the Royal Society B, rspb.royalsocietypublishing.or … .1098/rspb.2015.0220
Citation: Myth of tolerant dogs and aggressive wolves refuted (2015, April 21) retrieved 22 October 2019 from
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Apr 21, 2015
There is a difference though. In wolves lower ranked animals can challenge and possibly end up with a higher ranking within a pack. If a dog challenges a human it generally ends up bad for the dog. That might just be why even in a pack the lower ranked dogs don't challenge. It's been bred into them that the end result isn't going to be in their favor. All this could be totally wrong but it makes sense to me.

Apr 22, 2015
Humans breeding wolves for desirable traits led to the first dogs and further breeding has led hundreds of dog breeds existing today. That is why wolves are ancestral to dogs.

You still have a reading comprehension problem. The study was about aggression among a pack of wolves and aggression among a pack of dogs.
It wasn't between humans and wolves or humans and dogs or between wolves and dogs.

Apr 22, 2015
Nothing unusual I'd say, human raised dogs are never to question the authority of the owner, this must have impact on the behaviour of a dog within it's pack too.

When looking at the behaviour of dogs that appear genetically more close to wolves (e.g. Sheppards, Saarloos- and Czechoslovakian Wolfhounds), they are indeed more likely to challenge the leadership than many other types of dogs, which also calls for a strict and consistent upbringing.

Apr 22, 2015
"While low-ranked wolves often defended their food against the high-ranked partner and showed aggressive behaviour as often as higher-ranked wolves, this was different in dogs. Low-ranked dogs held back and accepted the threats of the dominant dog."

IMHO this does not indicate higher tolerance among the wolves, but higher aggression regardless of hierarchy and inferior ability to follow rules. I didn't read the full paper though.

Apr 22, 2015
I haven't read the paper, but it seems to me that a group in which threat displays are common (wolves), the effectiveness of threat displays might be less effective (and/or more clearly understood in terms of how serious it is) than in groups in which threat displays are less common (dogs) and therefore an unknown factor causes the dogs to hesitate. In other words, it might be that an equal or greater tolerance by dogs may be the cause of deferment to threat displays, being as they are more unusual. The deferment is more normal than a threat display.

Apr 23, 2015
Maybe this explains why the feudal royal families have always love to breed dogs, they admire their habits of bowing and scraping to their betters. They usually treated their dogs better than their servants. See Leigh Hunt's poem on Wellington's treatment of his dogs during the war in Spain: p 245.;hl=en

Apr 25, 2015
Or, unnatural selection in dogs as human pets altered the balance between aggression and cooperation in them that's necessary for a pack. Many if not most human dog owners do not act like a pack leader should and dog breeding doesn't generally select for pack mentality.

Apr 26, 2015
From the paper;

"All wolves (n 1⁄4 9) that participated in this study originated from North America but were born in captivity. The dogs (n 1⁄4 8) were mongrels born in animal shelters in Hungary."

-I didn't see anything about breed. We're these mongrels all of the same mix or were there variations? Wolves are a lot more homogenous than dogs. Different dog breeds were bred for different levels of aggressiveness and cooperation, as with dobermans and huskies. Did these dogs vary in size?

There may be a lot less difference between dominant wolves and their underlings than between dogs not bred to operate in packs. A dominent wolf may have a lot more to lose in intrapack conflict. There seem to be too many variables here to comprise a legitimate study. Maybe they should have used dingos which are truly feral instead of dogs?

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