- New research shows that wolves show the same attachment to humans as dogs
- Test wolves were able to differentiate between strangers and familiar people
- They also paid more attention to caregivers when stressed
- This suggests that dogs’ attachment to humans may predate their domestication
Mowgli’s lupine family in ‘The Jungle Book’ may not be entirely based on fiction, as scientists have found that wolves can actually show affection for humans.
Wild animals are able to differentiate between strangers and those they know, and show more affection towards their familiar than dogs.
Researchers from Stockholm University in Sweden tested 10 wolves and 12 dogs to see how they behaved in awkward and stressful situations.
Wolves displayed affection towards the caregiver they knew best, spending more time approaching and greeting them.
This finding contradicts the idea that dogs’ attachment to humans evolved only when humans domesticated them.
Instead, wolves exhibiting this attachment ‘could have had a selective advantage in the early stages of dog domestication’, according to lead author Dr Christina Hansen Wheat.
Wolves are able to differentiate between strangers and people they know, and show more affection towards people who are familiar with them than dogs (stock image)
Mowgli is a character in Rudyard Kipling’s story The Jungle Book, originally animated by Disney in the 1967 film, and then as a live-action remake in 2016 (pictured). They are called ‘man cubs’ because they were raised by a herd of wolves and sand bears
Researchers from Stockholm University in Sweden tested 10 wolves and 12 dogs to see how they behaved in awkward and stressful situations. The team hand raised wolf and dog puppies under similar conditions from the age of ten days, and tested them when they reached 23 weeks old. Left: Pictured: Wolf Puppy Björk. Right: Wolf Puppy Hendrix
How were dogs domesticated?
Genetic analysis of the world’s oldest known dog remains has shown that dogs were domesticated in a single event by humans living in Eurasia about 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Dr Krishna Veeramah, assistant professor in development at Stony Brook University, told MailOnline: ‘The current hypothesis is that the domestication of dogs likely arose passively, with populations of wolves somewhere in the world feeding on waste created by humans living on the outskirts of hunter-gatherer camps.
‘Wolves that were chiseled and less aggressive would have been more successful at this, and while humans did not initially benefit from the process, over time they may have developed some sort of symbiosis. [mutually beneficial] Relationships with these animals, eventually developing into the dogs we see today.’
The domestication of dogs occurred at least 15,000 years ago, when gray wolves and canines diverged from extinct wolf species.
Many researchers believe that their ability to form attachments with humans evolved around the same time—possibly thousands of years—while they became tamer.
However, Dr. Hansen Wheat believed that people could be selectively dogged based on a pre-existing attachment trait.
To test this theory, they used a behavioral test specifically designed to measure attachment behavior in canids, called the awkward position test.
It was originally developed for human babies, although here it may appear whether domestication influenced dogs’ attachment to humans.
It is a seven step process where a familiar person or a stranger interacts with the test animal in a room and his reactions are monitored.
In one of those stages, acquaintances and strangers move in and out of the room to create an awkward and stressful situation for the animal.
The theory is that this unstable environment would stimulate the animal’s attachment behavior.
As animals go through trials, they look for cues from wolves and dogs that discriminate between a familiar person and a stranger.
These may include showing more affection or greetings and spending more time in physical contact with the person you know.
The proportion of time wolf (red) and dog (blue) pups exhibited attachment behavior in or towards a familiar person versus a stranger. A sloping line shows discrimination between two people. A: greeting, B: following, C: physical contact, D: standing by the door, E: exploration, F: social play, G: passive behavior
The team raised wolf and dog puppies under similar conditions from the age of ten days to prepare them for testing, which they took when they reached 23 weeks of age.
During the test, the wolves instinctively discriminated between a familiar person and a stranger, as did the dogs.
They also showed more closeness-seeking and affiliative behaviors toward the familiar person.
Additionally, the presence of the familiar person acted as a social stress buffer for the wolves, calming them in a stressful situation.
Behavioral ecologist Dr Hansen Wheat said: ‘It was very clear that wolves, as dogs, preferred the familiar over the stranger.
‘But what was perhaps even more interesting was that the dogs that were not particularly affected by the test conditions were wolves.
‘They were pacing the test room.
‘However, what was remarkable was that when the familiar person, a hand lifter who had been living with the wolves, re-entered the test room, the pacing behavior stopped, indicating that the familiar person had experienced social stress. Wolves served as buffer.
‘I do not believe this has ever been shown in the case of wolves before and it also complements the existence of a strong bond between the animal and the familiar.’
Dr Hansen Wheat said: ‘It is very…
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