Many hypotheses have suggested that during domestication dogs have become more tolerant and cooperative both towards humans and conspecifics, yet if we compare what is known of wild wolves’ and free-ranging dogs’ social ecology, we may come to opposite predictions. Wolves depend on cooperative hunting and breeding, with all pack members feeding the young each year, whereas free-ranging dogs show little allomaternal care and depend mostly on solitary scavenging. This change in their socio-ecology may have resulted in a loss of abilities to cooperate with each other.
The ERC-cancoop project has been testing these ideas, comparing intra- and inter- cooperation, but also tolerance around food, inequity aversion and prosocial behaviours in wolves and dogs at the Wolf Science Center.
We have found that wolves are more successful at cooperating with conspecifics than dogs in a string-pulling task, although in both species cooperation is easier amongst closely bonded partners (link to publication). Wolves are also more tolerant around a food source such as a carcass than dogs (link to publication). In fact whereas in wolves the subordinate individual will also get a piece of the carcass, in dogs, subordinates try to avoid conflicts and don’t even come close. Although when it comes to food-sharing, the social bond is also important, with more closely affiliated partners tolerating each other more around food. Both wolves and dogs respond equally negatively to unequal treatment (link to publication) when a human asks them to do something but rewards one partner more than the other, but in this case rank also plays a role, with more dominant animals reacting more strongly to unequal treatment than subordinate ones.
Taken together the results from these studies suggest that cooperativeness and its correlates play a major role in wolves’ lives, and that during domestication some of these abilities or motivational factors in particular in relation to conspecifics may have been lost. We suggest that these results highlight the importance of taking the species’ socio-ecology into account and future studies should consider extending research also to free-ranging populations as much as possible.