About wolves and dogs climbing stars

Katharina Kriegler (Animal trainer)


One or the other visitor of the game park might have observed a training session, in which a wolf climbs up a star. The star though, in this case, is made out of wood, cut out in a star shape and serves as a so called target. Our wolves are trained to step onto it, and to stay for a few moments before he is rewarded with a click, that we use as a secondary reinforcer, and a treat.

What is the use of that, one might ask.

Since here at the WSC we do many scientific tests, we do need certain pre-trainings. Of course, this is not only true for our wolves, but also our dogs are being trained to participate in scientific experiments. Still, they are a bit more in the background - their enclosures are not as central in the game park as those of the wolves and hence not as prone to visitors.

Our „star pre-training“ is done for a scientific experiment, that aims to investigate, whether animals are able to choose an efficient partner for cooperation. During pre-training, the test-animals are familiarized to a „good cop“ and a „bad cop“. In a string pulling task, the „good cop“, a human cooperation partner, would always be cooperative and aid the test animal to pull the second rope of the test apparatus, which is necessary for the apparatus table to move forward and bring the reward that is placed there in reach (see picture, wolf Aragorn and human Marianne at the string pulling table).

The other way round the „ bad cop“ does not cooperate and will not help the test animal in the string pulling, so that the reward cannot be reached.

After, the difference between good and bad cop is learned, the test animal is then ready do be tested and is given the choice whom to choose for solving the string pulling task. How can the animal tell us whom to choose? As a signal for us, he will step on the target, our star, that is placed next to his or her preferred partner. If the test animal steps on the star next to the good cop, he will come for help with the string pulling and the reward will be secured :)

This test we described here is currently run at the WSC and we are excited to see the first results!

So, if you see a wolf climbing on a star the next time you visit the WSC, you will now know why this is trained here.

Warm regards from Maikan, the pretty guy standing on the star (see picture)