Visit of Wolfgang Schleidt and Dorothy Gracey on 29.05.2008
Wolfgang Schleidt, once assistant of Konrad Lorenz, professor of zoology at the University of Vienna, is a world famous expert of dog-human coevolution. Dorothy Gracey is a comparable fan of living with dogs, and has been working on cat-human relationship in Kurt Kotrschal's research group. The two of them visited the wolves at Zsofi's place, and playing with the pups brought us several interesting stories, mainly in comparison to dog pups.
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We were eager to meet the wolf pups, both having long been interested in wolves as intelligent, socially cooperative animals and as the ancestor of the dog.
WS has proposed* that dog domestication may in fact have begun as mutual contact as part of a process in which Eurasian humans adopted wolf-like herd following and hunting strategies (en route to becoming pastoralists), and wolves found in human camps a good additional food source. Below are DG’s and WS’s observations of the the wolf pups, with some comparisons to a dog litter of the same age.
After DG sat on the floor, Shima, the only pup then awake, immediately approached and climbed on her, showing no sign of neophobia or even ambivalence. The photo of her and DG in the diary for 29 May shows her on DG’s shoulder. DG wasn’t holding her there; rather, she climbed there herself and DG was merely steadying her. She was captured in mid-yawn after having thoroughly nuzzled and tugged at DG’s hair. The males behaved similarly, scrambling up onto the sofa with WS as well as all over DG.
Taya was also interactive but didn’t explore us as extensively. During our visit, she was not quite as active as her siblings and mostly kept her distance from them, sleeping separately and playing with us by herself.
DG noticed that at least one wolf pup had a marked startle response to sudden noise; she had observed similar responses in Samoyed pups of the same age, some more than others. However, the follow-up to being startled in both wolf and dog pups was to carry on or investigate rather than hide. DG’s adult Samoyed still startles at loud noises but promptly follows up with curiosity.
Like the Samoyed pups, the wolf pups occasionally got into brief fierce fights during play. These disputes seemed to mainly involve one pup protesting another’s being too rough while mouthing or wrestling. The wolves were already riding up on each other, DG thinks more so than did Samoyed pups at that age.
Toward the end of this visit Shima and Taya were wrestling gently together, both with play faces. Shima was lying on her back, mouthing Taya as Taya clambered over her belly.
Overall, most striking to us was the wolf pups’ strong curiosity and activity, their lack of neophobia, the gentleness of their mouthing, and their vocalizations (similar to the Samoyeds except for the wolves’ not barking): grunts, soft rumbles, brief high-pitched growly shrieks while fighting.
At this age, the Samoyeds had already begun to howl, and we were told that wolves had too, though nobody howled while we were there.
Far from the old behaviorist claim that one-month-old pups respond only to stimuli, a wolf pup at this age is busy exploring her or his world of fellow individuals, objects, odors, and sounds.
*Schleidt, W. M. and Schalter, M. D. 2003. Co-evolution of humans and canids. Evolution and Cognition 9:1, 57-71. This paper can be found on the web at: http://www.uwsp.edu/psych/s/275/Science/Coevolution03.pdf