Wolfish Social Skills

According to a new study, wolves can learn from humans.

By | December 4, 2013

FLICKR, SERGE MELKIResearchers recently proposed that domestic dogs originated approximately 18,000 to 32,000 years ago from European wolves. A new study shows that these wolves may have already had some social skills that helped them interact with humans. The research was published in Frontiers in Psychology this week (December 3).

“There have been several hypotheses regarding domestication, including that there are some social skills dogs have that wolves don’t, or that dogs can accept humans as social partners and wolves can’t,” coauthor Friederike Range of the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna in Austria told NBC News. “The story is not that simple—this we can say for sure.”

Range and her coauthor Zsófia Virányi worked with wolves and dogs raised by humans at the Wolf Science Center near Vienna. In one set of trials, each wolf or dog was shown a treat, which they watched as it was hidden by a familiar person or pet dog. In control trials, the subjects were shown the treat, but then watched it be pocketed by another person while a human or pet dog guide walked to a designated endpoint. Each animal also participated in a test where the treat was hidden before the trial began, so there were neither human nor dog cues to follow. The trials were recorded and then scored to determine whether the subjects either found the treat, went to the endpoint where the treat would have been hidden, or engaged in a different action.

Dogs and wolves were both more likely to find the treat with a demonstration from a human or a dog than without a demonstration, suggesting that both species responded to visual cues. The researchers also showed that wolves were less likely to search for a treat that had not been hidden during control trials than dogs, which could indicate that wolves are more sensitive to cues from social partners or that dogs concentrate more on human actions, regardless of their importance.

“Of course, just testing wolves and dogs is not enough to permit wide-ranging conclusions about the origins of the sensitivity to people that we see in dogs,” Clive Wynne of the University of Arizona, who was not involved in the research, told International Business Times. “Quite likely, other species would also show similar sensitivity if given the same opportunities in early life.”

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Avatar of: JohnnyMorales


Posts: 30

December 6, 2013

These researchers need to revise their model.

Why is it assumed that humans during the time of domestication were so advanced in terms of civlization.

Far more likely I think is humans during the period of domestication were not settled or civilized, and probably shared a lot of the wolve's lifestyle when it came to hunting and seeking shelter.

Because of this, wolf packs and prehistoric human tribes ran across each other constantly quite often in competition, but sometimes as we see in other preditor species both took opportunities to work together to kill the megafauna that lived back then. Life was too harsh back then to be able to ignore happenstance that brought the two together which ended up with a successful hunt that both shared.

No doubt many a successful wolly rhino, mastedon Etc. hunt was the result of human/wolf cooperation.

That initially happened by chance, but as they kept on crossing each other's paths in the wild chance cooperation evolved into purposeful working together.

It's odd that the researchers comments infer a role for the wolf during domestication nearly identical to the one we have with dog's now as if humans during that time were well on their way to becoming civilized.

Far more likely is when wolves were initially domesticated modern human hunter gatherers were as wild as the wolf was. Being intelligent does NOT mean we never lived as wild animals. Our intelligence is what allowed us to escape that state.

In such a setting is where the first domestications occurred.

If we strip away our human superiority complex and just look at our social interactions the way we look at the wolf's we find quite a few paralells.

Like wolves we have dominant and submissive roles, and during prehistoric times, pre law when the strongest ruled, I imagine opportunities to mate were ruthlessly controlled by the tribal heads JUST LIKE WOLVES. Like wolves some young humans would leave their group and join others. Like wolves there was communal care for any cubs.

Because there were so many paralells when humans and wolves had mutually beneficial interactions we humans found it very easy and natural to extend our social rules to encompass any wolf that wanted to hang around us.

Wolves initially stuck around to get their share of the reward, but as they realized they understood humans the ones that became domesticated stuck around rather than leaving after taking their share of the hunt.

Of course this cooperative role evolved into the master/pet relationship of today, and yes that role continues to evolve.

Ironically as we become more aware of the dog's abilities more and more people see dogs as far more than pets and near equal or equal companions able to share the feelings Etc - something prehistoric humans probably believed as well and embodied in their use of the wolf as an iconic god figure in varied forms.

Probably even more common was the competivive role that resulted in human groups hunting a wolf pack and killing all the adults while sparing the cubs they might find as a result.

They spared them for the same reason humans love puppies they were cute. Cuteness is a well known evolutionary adaptation designed to help parents care for their spawn via visual queus that trigger the caring impulse in the adults.

Cuteness in that context is non-specific. Anything exhibiting those traits can elicit the parental caring.

Simply imagining what would happen say when a human parent fresh from the loss of their own child stumbled upon a nearly helpless cub should make clear that as often as children died during prehistoric hunter/gathering period for humans opportunities to console themselves by finding a very cute infant of another species like the wolf probably happened all the time.

Finally as for the "wild nature" of the wolf, while we civilized humans cannot conceive of making one a pet, hunter/gatherer humans were as different from us as wolves are from domesticated dogs. We were also wild, and the behaviors that make the modern wolf so scary to many were far less impressive to our prehistoric ancestors and taken as just part of their every day world.


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