Wolves share more than dogs

When it comes to gen­er­os­ity, wolves win tales down. A sci­entif­ic study led by Rachel Dale, an­im­al be­ha­viour spe­cial­ist at the Wolf Science Center in Vienna, Austria, de­term­ined that wolves are more apt to provide treats for oth­er wolves than dogs are to oth­er dogs.

The Center hand-raises wolves and dogs and then con­ducts tests in­volving coöper­a­tion and cog­ni­tion in an ef­fort to un­der­stand the dif­fer­ences and com­mon­al­it­ies of the two species.

A re­cent study test­ing coöper­a­tion placed a wolf or a dog in a room with a touch screen con­tain­ing a couple of im­ages. Another wolf or dog was placed in an ad­ja­cent room that was vis­ible to the an­im­al be­ing tested.

When the test an­im­al pressed the “giv­ing” sym­bol, their part­ner in the oth­er room re­ceived a treat. Wolves nudged the sym­bol with their nose far more of­ten than the dogs.

As a con­trol, some­times the part­ner was placed in a room where it wouldn’t re­ceive a re­ward even if the giv­ing sym­bol was pushed. Wolves pressed the sym­bol less un­der those circumstances.

But they pressed the sym­bol even more if they knew the wolf in the ad­ja­cent room and saw it get a treat. Dogs were less gen­er­ous on all counts.

The res­ults of the study in­dic­ate that do­mest­ic­a­tion may have al­lowed dogs to lose their coöper­at­ive nature as they de­pend on hu­mans for food, not oth­er dogs.

Although the wolves used in the study are fed by hu­mans, their ge­net­ic makeup is much closer to that of wild wolves and they ap­pear to have re­tained their close bonds with and re­li­ance on pack mates for survival.

Photograph by Rooobert Bayer, Wolf Science Center, Austria