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. 2017 Oct 31;114(44):11793-11798.
doi: 10.1073/pnas.1709027114. Epub 2017 Oct 16.

Importance of a Species' Socioecology: Wolves Outperform Dogs in a Conspecific Cooperation Task

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Free PMC article

Importance of a Species' Socioecology: Wolves Outperform Dogs in a Conspecific Cooperation Task

Sarah Marshall-Pescini et al. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. .
Free PMC article

Abstract

A number of domestication hypotheses suggest that dogs have acquired a more tolerant temperament than wolves, promoting cooperative interactions with humans and conspecifics. This selection process has been proposed to resemble the one responsible for our own greater cooperative inclinations in comparison with our closest living relatives. However, the socioecology of wolves and dogs, with the former relying more heavily on cooperative activities, predicts that at least with conspecifics, wolves should cooperate better than dogs. Here we tested similarly raised wolves and dogs in a cooperative string-pulling task with conspecifics and found that wolves outperformed dogs, despite comparable levels of interest in the task. Whereas wolves coordinated their actions so as to simultaneously pull the rope ends, leading to success, dogs pulled the ropes in alternate moments, thereby never succeeding. Indeed in dog dyads it was also less likely that both members simultaneously engaged in other manipulative behaviors on the apparatus. Different conflict-management strategies are likely responsible for these results, with dogs' avoidance of potential competition over the apparatus constraining their capacity to coordinate actions. Wolves, in contrast, did not hesitate to manipulate the ropes simultaneously, and once cooperation was initiated, rapidly learned to coordinate in more complex conditions as well. Social dynamics (rank and affiliation) played a key role in success rates. Results call those domestication hypotheses that suggest dogs evolved greater cooperative inclinations into question, and rather support the idea that dogs' and wolves' different social ecologies played a role in affecting their capacity for conspecific cooperation and communication.

Keywords: comparative cognition; cooperation; dogs; domestication; wolves.

Conflict of interest statement

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Figures

Fig. 1.
Fig. 1.
Wolves working in the loose-string paradigm. Image courtesy of Rooobert Bayer (Wolf Science Center, Ernstbrunn, Austria).
Fig. 2.
Fig. 2.
Schematic depiction of the experimental procedure.
Fig. 3.
Fig. 3.
Boxplots (median, interquartile range, outliers) showing the success rates (in percentage of trials in which dyads succeeded) for wolves and dogs in the Spontaneous and Posttraining conditions.
Fig. 4.
Fig. 4.
Boxplots (median, interquartile range, outliers) showing the success rates (in percentage of trials in which dyads succeeded) for wolves across the three main conditions (Single-tray: Spontaneous, Retesting, and Posttraining; Two-tray and Delay conditions).
Fig. 5.
Fig. 5.
The higher the wolf dyad’s affiliation score, the more successful they were in coordinating their actions to solve both apparatuses in the Two-tray condition.
Fig. 6.
Fig. 6.
The smaller rank distance between partners in a wolf dyad, the more successful they were in coordinating their actions to solve both apparatuses in the Two-tray condition.
Fig. S1.
Fig. S1.
Test set-up in the Spontaneous/Posttraining conditions (A) and the two-tray (B) condition. Figure courtesy of Akshay Rao and Corinna Kratz (Wolf Science Center, Ernstbrunn, Austria).

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