Did domestication affect the use of proximity and means-end connections in dogs? - String-pulling in wolves and dogs

Friederike Range, Helene Möslinger, Zsófia Virányi

Recent studies have revealed that dogs often perform well in cognitive tasks in the social domain, but rather poorly in the physical domain. This dichotomy has let to the hypotheses that the domestication process might have enhanced the social cognitive skills of dogs (Hare et al. 2002; Miklosi et al. 2003) but at the same time had a detrimental effect on their physical cognition (Frank 1980). Despite the recent interest in dog cognition and especially the effects of domestication, the latter hypothesis has hardly been tested in the sense that we lack detailed knowledge of the physical understanding of wolves in comparison to dogs. Here, we set out to examine whether adult wolves and dogs rely on means-end connections using the string pulling task to test the prediction that wolves would perform better than dogs in such a task of physical cognition. We found that a few animals – both wolves and dogs - performed rather well even in the more difficult conditions. At the group level, dogs were more prone to commit the proximity error, while the wolves showed a stronger side bias. Nevertheless, the wolves learned to solve one of the easier tasks within 20 trials where dogs failed. Whether the faster learning in wolves is due to their better recognition of means-end connections in accordance with Franks’ hypothesis or simply due to better associative learning skills compared to dogs needs to be further explored.