Do we live together with wolves in a dogs' coat? Communication and problem-solving behaviour in wolves and dogs having been raised by humans

Applicant Zsófia Virányi & Friederike Range
Partner institution Wolfpark USA
Investor Hochschuljubiläumsstiftung der Stadt Wien
Duration 1.3.-1.8.2009
Scientific collaboration Helene Möslinger
Publications Verständnis der Verbindung zwischen Hilfsmittel und Endzustand: Ein Seilzieh Versuch

Dogs always have been part of the human society and play different roles in our life. They were breeded for most different purposes, initially as watch- and gundogs, as companion of man, nowadays even for the support of disaibled persons until to their use as rescue-, search and police dogs. In all these different activities the dogs have to rely on their mental abilities: they have to learn a lot and also often have to make their own decisions. Dogs derive from the wolf and though we know, that in the course of domestication they have adapted to various aspects in the living-together with man, it's not yet cleared, whether their thinkink still is "wolfish" or whether their problem-solving behaviour as well as their ability to learn also have changed.

One hyothesis assumes, that in the course of domestication dogs lost some of their cognitive intelligence. At this it is the basic presumption, that the humans solved many problems for them, while wolves themselves had to get along with the challenges in the wild.  In contrast a second hypothesis assumes, that dogs did loose nothing of their physical comprehension, but became more sensitive to human influences and thus their behaviour is controlled more by the human behaviour than by independent deductions of physical causalities.   

Available scientific data on the physically comprehension in dogs first are very rare and contradictory, second we do not know, whether their perfomance is comparable or worser than that of wolves. In this project we plan to find out more about it by the investigation of the physical comprehension in dogs with a new method. In comparison thereto the physical comprehension in wolvesnas well as their sensitivity to human social signs and non-social moving signs will be tested.

As we want ot investigate, whether domestication has changed the mental abilities of dogs, it must be ensure, that possible differences between dogs and wolves are not due to different individual experiences. Therefore we need wolves having comparable experiences with humans as the dogs. That's why we will test wolves having been hand-raised in the Wolf Park/USA. This is the only research facility with a larger number of adult, hand-raised wolves being at disposal for scientific investigations. The comparison of the performance of dogs with that of hand-raised wolves in cognitive tests will show, whether the cognition in dogs has developed and possibly has changed in the course of domestication or whether the mental abilities are still the same as in wolves.