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The wolf and the---domesticated wolf.

By Dave Armstrong - 22 Apr 2015 12:20:33 GMT
The wolf and the---domesticated wolf.

The beauty of a wild wolf can’t be denied and never has, by those who study them closely. They also keep our deer in hand, to preserve our forests and maintain the whole system. Canis lupus image; Credit: © Shutterstock

Three authors today use the idea that a dog is more cooperative while the wolf is renowned for aggression. Unfortunately, they very well know that while cooperation is somehow tied to domestication, it is also part and parcel of the wolf-pack. We generally consider dogs to be docile and affectionate versions of wolves, while wolves are also less tolerant and more aggressive towards their own kind. Just look at my favourite stories and fables about wolves in Wolf and tiger fables resolved..

Perhaps we need a better definition of these behaviours and how tolerance and cooperation, such as is found in some apes, could be part of the canine answer. Friederike Range, Caroline Ritter and Zsofia Viranyi of the University of Vienna and the Wolf Science Centre in Ernstbrunn, Austria, decided to compare captive wolf and dog packs, kept under identical conditions. There were only 9 wolves (North American) and 8 dogs used in the experiment. Their behaviour at a single food plate was carefully recorded.

Results suggest the wolves are the more tolerant because both low-ranked animals and high-ranked animals behaved similarly. Both types monopolised the food given and showed agonistic (aggressive) behaviour. Dogs on the other hand only allowed monopoly or such threats to the high rankers. All that low-ranking dogs could do was silently co-feed or retreat if challenged. The deep and rigid dominance in the dogs was obvious but threatening signals still only appeared in 33% of the 5-minute trials. As more tolerant, the wolves could be restrained by their youth. Older wolves would certainly need to be tested in this way, to indicate whether the quicker maturation associated with domestication was not affecting the whole experiment. One indication is that wolves are contrary to expectations and actually become more tolerant with age!

More frequent and more intense aggression in dog packs tends to back the less tolerant temperament. Dogs may be more sensitive to agonistic behaviour than wolves. Easily intimidated, low rankers could learn to avoid confrontation. Many other dog/wolf differences could also explain their approaches to tolerance however. Violence could be used by domestic dogs to control competitive situations instead of the dominance relationship. In stable packs, this is highly unlikely (while it is possible that reduced visual expression in dogs can cause them to fail to signal properly, because of their altered morphology.)

There are a lot of reasons why wolves would avoid food conflicts, including the need to eat fast to avoid inter-specific competition. Wolves are also closely-related, cooperative hunting units, while dogs simply join others to scavenge. We should remember that 76-83% of all domestic dogs are free-ranging, more-or-less independent of humans. Social life among them must be a result of quite successful communication, but what a tragedy for the wonderful story of man and his best friend? The communication should be more with dog-to-human-to-dog and the message is What went wrong? Read the lot at The Royal Society’s Proc Roy Soc B as Testing the Myth: Tolerant dogs and aggressive wolves.