Dog-wolf differences in the utilisation of human pointing gestures

Gácsi, M., Győri, B., Virányi, Zs., Kubinyi, E., Range, F., Belényi, B., Miklósi, Á.

Gácsi, M., Győri, B., Virányi, Zs., Kubinyi, E., Range, F., Belényi, B., Miklósi, Á. (2009) Selection for developmental shift explains dog-wolf difference in utilizing human pointing gestures. Plos one 4(8):e6584.doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0006584

Project Cognitive abilities and emotionla background
Authors Zsófia Virányi, Friederike Range
Year of publication 2009
Journal PlosOne

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Background

In general dogs are very good in understanding human pointing gestures. The comparison of such communicative abillities in socialised canids could help to understand the evolution and epigenesis of pointing gesture in man. The comparison of such communicative abilities in socialized canids could help to understand the evolution and the  epigenesis of the gesture comprehension in man. We suggest to re-evalute previous, discrepant opinions about the outstanding performances of dogs and the bad achievments of wolves in the utilisation of human gestures by investigation of dog-wolf differences in a more complexe way.

Method/Results

We introduce data concerning performance as well as behaviour of dogs and wolves at different  ages in an object test with two possibilities. In this experiment the person shows by a pointing gesture, in which of two buckets a piece of meat is hidden.
There were characteristic behaviour differences between the species in each age group. The establishment of eye-contact with the pointing collaborator took longer in wolves, they resisted their handle and the puppies even bit them now and then, until they were able to focus on the gesture.

The performance of comparable hand-raised 8 week old dogs and wolves did not differ when using smiple human gestures, e.g. the close, short-time pointing (distance between bucket and forefinger 15 cm). Anyway, at the test with far-distance, short-time pointing (distance between bucket and forefinger 1.5 m). Anyhow, the 4 month old dog  puppies surpassed all hand-raised wolves of the same age. These results show, that an early and intensive socialisation is not enough to reduce differences behaviour and performance between young dogs and young wolves. The success of the adult wolves was accompanied by a higher willingness for cooperation with man.

Conclusion/Significance

For the first time we provide evidence, that socialized, adult wolves do as well as adult dogs in reacting to a far-distance, short-time pointing. The age-related delayed utilization of human far-distance, short-time pointing in wolves shows, that these wild canids react to a lower degree on intensive socialization than dogs. These are able early in their development at a test with food to control agonistic behaviour and rather willing to cooperate with man.

The results support our synergistic hypothesis suggesting that positive feedback processes (both evolutionary and ontogenetic) enhance the willingness in dogs to pay attention to man and thus create the base for complexe forms of dog-man-communication.