Human-dog: a model for wolf relationships?
Although this section is generally reserved for guest scientists, you find now a blog by one of us, because some of those data will be presented in the upcoming Canine Science Forum (presentation by Kotrschal et al. on Tu morning, July 8) in Budapest and it has quite some relevance to what we do with wolves (or they with us).
View the slideshow (1 image)
We (Kurt Kotrschal, Barbara Bauer, Iris Schöberl and Manuela Wedl) just completed an IEMT Austria funded pilot study on the nature of the human-dog relationships at the University of Vienna. In 22 humans (females and men) with their intact male dogs we had the following major results (among others):
1. Owner personality is important
We found that human personality and attachment to the dog significantly affects dog behaviour and dyadic operational performance in a task. In particular, owners high in “neuroticism” (Five Factor Model of human personality, axis 1) were particularly strongly attached to their dogs, needed their dogs as a social supporter, were not very clear in their communication style with their dogs and were relatively malfunctioning in a practical task (i.e. guiding their dog over a bridge).
2. Owner gender is important
Male dogs of femal and male owners were significantly different along dog personality axis 3 (obtained by PCA fom observer rated items; revealed a total of 4 axes, only this one was sexually dimorphic, see Figure). Dogs were more relaxed and friendly towards other humans when the owner was a man. This may be surprising and counterintuitive at first, but makes sense in the light of the sex-sensitivity of dogs with respect to their human partners. Male dogs in the hands of women owners may a) experience a different interaction style and b) may regard themselves als the top male in the partnership, which, since the times dogs were still wolves, may mean also assuming a particular social roe towards the outside. We also got relevant differences in salivary testosterone between dogs, which, however, we will not report here.
Individualizing dog training
This indicates, that owner gender, personality and attachment style are main predictors of the practical functionality of a human-dog dyade, at least when intact male dogs are involved. The very clear practical conclusions from such results are that dog training, now mainly method-orientated, rather should be individualized according to owner gender and personality.
Individualized dyadic relations: Predictions towards our wolf research and our future relationships
Assuming that the underlying social dispositions are still similar between wolves and dogs, or even within the higher vertebrates in general (Kotrschal, in prep.), these results also allow some predictions regarding to the results we may get in our Wolf Science Center research. As we have found that practical cooperation between partners in human-dog dyads is crucially affected by the relationship between partners, it is pretty safe to predict that we may get parallel results for the cooperation between individual wolves and between them and individual humans.
And there will be practical consequences, for example in handlig and interating with the wolves later on. A number of different people are involved from the beginning, each building her/his individual relationship with each of the 4 wolves. There are also a number of different dogs involved from the beginning for which the same is true. Will be extremely interesting to see (pretty much along the lines of our Vienna human-dog-pilot) how that will affect the social and practical relationships between humans and wolves and also, between dogs and wolves once the wolves are two years of age. I regard this kind of social bio-psychology of cooperation (among a list of other topics) as one of the most intriguing aspects of our future research.
Men and female dogs (and wolves) - a Venus tale ?
Clearly, gender will be important. At the moment, for example, Shima in particular is not particularly fond of social contact with me, but is relaxed with Friederike. It is also our experience, particularly with female Eurasier dog pups that these are shy against their male human partners at a certain period of development. Later, this may turn into a particularly strong attachment between female dogs and their male human companions (as already the ancient Greek were well aware of). Let́s see how that works out in our wolves.
Man and male wolves - hopefully not a Mars tale !
I am painfully aware that the nice relationship I now have with our boys, Aragorn and Kaspar, may tilt into the contrary, into attacks towards me once they are sexually mature, but rather not towards our women collaborators. As we do not intend to castrate them, and still want to prevent that from happening, I am taking care that our relationships does not get too close. Aragorn and Kaspar must learn, that I am a kind of conscientious and dependable social companion, but not at all a rival in their pack affairs (sorry, Shima and Taya). Wolves should be sufficiently socially intelligent to master such a specific distinction, but whether their prefrontal cortex (which is the mammalian center for impulse control and decision making; this part of the wolf brain we now particularly try to affect with our training) is also sufficiently powerful to control their old vertebrate socio-sexual instincts (see Goodson 2006 on this) remains to be seen. In two years we will know more.