Wolves cooperate with humans

March 15, 2019, University of Veterinary Medicine—Vienna
Wolves cooperate with humans, but they take the lead. Credit: Friederike Range/Vetmeduni Vienna

Wolves lead, dogs follow—and both cooperate with humans. The statement is a bold one, especially as wolves have received a lot of negative attention in recent years. A recent study conducted by behavioural researchers at Vetmeduni Vienna, however, shows that dogs and wolves both work equally well with humans, albeit in different ways. The allegedly unequal brothers are thus much more similar than often assumed.

Human social life would be unthinkable without . The frequency and complexity with which humans cooperate with each other are extraordinary, if not unique. To better understand the evolution of this outstanding human skill, researchers have proposed (Canis familiaris) as a good model of human cooperation.

The wolf inside dogs makes the difference

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

Especially in one point 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. Study director Friederike Range from the Konrad Lorenz Institute at Vetmeduni Vienna says, "The detailed analysis of the cooperative interactions revealed interesting differences between wolves and dogs. It shows that, while wolves tend to initiate behaviour and take the lead, dogs are more likely to wait and see what the human partner does and follow that behaviour."

Differences in behaviour due to domestication

Dogs follow us if they cooperate with humans. Credit: Friederike Range/Vetmeduni Vienna

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 (deferential behaviour hypothesis). 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.

Early socialization with humans is crucial

The research team led by Friederike Range 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- 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. As Friederike Range says, "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 Center 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 , 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 pet.

Explore further: Dog-human cooperation is based on social skills of wolves

More information: Sarah Marshall-Pescini et al. A task-experienced partner does not help dogs be as successful as wolves in a cooperative string-pulling task, Scientific Reports (2018). DOI: 10.1038/s41598-018-33771-7

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not rated yet Mar 16, 2019
The Stalinists had a saying for this very subject...

"When you run with wolves?
You will need to learn
how to howl!"
not rated yet Mar 16, 2019

"When you run with wolves?
You will need to learn
how to howl!"
4 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2019
Yes !!
They cooperate withe shepherds and farmers to ged rid of many animals.
And with women, because they are so sweet.
1 / 5 (1) Mar 18, 2019
Well, the wolves would help cull sick, injured, elderly stock. Otherwise unusable because of rot. Preventing epidemics among the herds.

I bet you are thinking
" Why not have the herding dogs take care of those chores?"

What work are you going to get from sick dogs? Infected by tainted meat?
& you certainly would not wan;t your dogs attacking the herds, whenever the dogs were hungry?
Especially when the animals are almost helpless while giving birth.
In addition to the smell of blood & cries of distress triggering the dogs worst instincts!

Either diseased or feral?
Would you want those dogs around your family?

As for women & wolves?
When the weather gets cold & wet?
They will appreciate a nice cozy wolf fur jacket & mittens!
not rated yet Mar 18, 2019
In the theme of this article.
Are the renewed uses we have for not exterminating wild, canines...

With the example of restoring wolves to the Yellowstone wilderness.

With several benefits,
A pack of wolves can consume a heck of a lot of meat. If an elk ain't available?
They'll settle for your steer.

The elk, protected by killing off the Yellowstone wolves, became fat & lazy & destructive of their environment.

The wolves have been returned. Chasing the elk around their habitats makes the elk healthier from the exercise. If more nervous, the price of survival.

The Elk population, slightly diminished & wary of being trapped in thickets?
Have little time to wreck the vegetation.
This has benefited a number of other animal species
by restoring the undergrowth they needed. So overall, the Park & it's denizens are healthier.

To quote myself
"The only point of contention between the Shepherd & the Wolf?
Is which one of them,
gets to eat the Lamb!"

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