Another study further demonstrates how distanced domesticated dogs are from their ancestors, and how much different they are from pack animals, while also being strongly dependent on their humans.
Recently, two scientists at Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna have been studying lab-raised dogs as well as wolf packs to better understand these groups, and how they respond to human dominance.
Zsófia Virányi and Friederike Range, both comparative psychologists, came to the conclusion that as humans domesticated wolves, they were selectively breeding them for a more cooperative nature. This selective breeding has resulted in dogs that are now very interested in pleasing their human masters, and suppressing some of their instinctual behaviors to do so.
Methods and results of the study
Researchers came to this conclusion by giving a series of tests to socialized packs of wolves and mixed-breed dogs.
Four packs from each species were used for the testing procedures and each pack consisted of anywhere from two to six animals. All the animals used in this study were raised at the Wolf Science Center in Game Park, located in Ernstbrunn, Austria, from the time they were about 10 days old. All animals were assisted by people around the clock until they were eventually introduced to pack life. This resulted in them being completely comfortable around humans.
After careful observation of different packs over many months, researchers were able to tell quite clearly which members of each pack ranked higher than the others.
In order to test a certain pack member’s tolerance for its fellow pack members, sceintists performed a mealtime challenge. They paired a high-ranking member with a low-ranking partner and then set out only one dish of food.
In each match-up of domesticated dogs, the higher-ranking member would monopolize the food dish. However, with wolves, each member had an equal chance at the food and they were both able to eat out of the dish at the same time.
There were a few instances where a higher ranking wolf would show his dominance to the subordinate, but in the dogs’ case, the secondary member wouldn’t even make an attempt at the food. The research has showed that the lower ranking dogs did not dare to challenge a top member of the pack.
Additional research for further proof
Scientists have also done an assessment to test whether these animals were able to follow the gaze of the other pack members to find food. Interestingly, wolves were very cooperative and would take time to communicate or ‘talk’ before making any moves.
Wolf packs would work together to make a group decision, while the top dogs reacted aggressively toward their subordinates on multiple occasions, and it was very clear that dogs pack leaders were the decision makers for the group.
Based on their findings, researchers believe that the relationship between humans and dogs is also a hierarchical one, where humans are on top and the dogs are subordinate.
Typically, domestication of animals is looked at as a cooperative relationship in which the domestication enhances the dog’s ability to work with their owner. However, Range and Virányi believe that this notion should be analyzed more closely. They think that our ancestors bred domesticated dogs to obey us, and depend on us rather than cooperate with us to achieve a common goal.
This also further proves how distances dogs are from their ancestors .
Other studies on the subject
Other research has been done on the topic as well. A similar study done at Oregon State University was performed by animal behaviorist Monique Udell to see if dogs were independent problem solvers, or if they would await orders from their human.
Udell used 10 pet dogs and 10 shelter dogs for this study. Each was given a sealed container of summer sausage and was allowed two minutes to open it.
Researchers also performed the same test on 10 captive wolves. None of the domesticated dogs could open the container, and most didn’t even show enough effort; however, 8 of 10 wolves managed to get the containers open. The study proved that the domesticated dogs’ dependence on humans inhibits some of their natural instincts.
- Freedman AH, Gronau I, Schweizer RM, Ortega-Del Vecchyo D, Han E, et al. Genome Sequencing Highlights the Dynamic Early History of Dogs. PLoS Genet 10(1): e1004016. doi: 10.1371/journal.pgen.1004016