Nearly fifty years ago, archaeologists uncovered the bones of a lady and a small dog in a 12,000-year-old town where people interred their nearest and dearest under their homes, in our case the nearest friend was the puppy with the old lady’s hand resting on its breast.
This represents some of the first examples of the relationship between people and their fellow companions. However, after years of investigation, scientists disagree on the exact origins of this relationship. Did it develop over a long period of time as early animals grew calmer and more used to human behavior? Or was this flame present in the gray wolf, the progenitor of dogs?
Young wolves are considered to be capable of developing dog-like ties with people. They may even consider others as a form of solace and safety in certain situations. However, according to Monique Udell, a human-animal interaction researcher at Oregon State University, Corvallis, the findings lend credence to the hypothesis that wolves may possess some features formerly believed to be exclusive to dogs.
To test, a new experiment, which was initially planned to study human babies and their mothers, called Strange Situation test examines how the stress of being exposed to an unknown person or situation impacts a subject's behavior when they are reunited with their caregiver was conducted.
The team behind the new study had to perform a lot of heavy coddling in the beginning since wolves do not naturally desire to take part in such trials. 10 gray wolves were hand-reared by Christina Hansen Wheat, a behavioral ecologist at Stockholm University, and her associates, when they were ten days old, even before they could open their eyes. The experimenters studied in shifts and stood with the puppies every day, even waking up at night to bottle feed them.
The animals were 23 weeks old when a caregiver took each one of them into a room that was generally empty. The caregiver periodically left and returned to the room over, sometimes leaving the wolf by itself and other times leaving it with a total stranger. The experiment was replicated with 12 Alaskan huskies who were 23 weeks old and had been reared in a similar manner since they were puppies.
The investigators mostly did not see many distinctions between wolves and dogs. On a five-point scale of "greeting behavior," which measures an animal's desire to be around a person, both animals scored 4.6 when their caregiver entered the room. When the stranger entered, dog greeting behavior decreased to 4.2 and wolf greeting behavior to 3.5, respectively, indicating that both animals were able to distinguish between the person they knew and the person they did not, which is reflected as an indication of loyalty.
In the course of the trial, both dogs and wolves made more physical contact with their carers than with outsiders. Additionally, whereas wolves walked at least some of the exam, dogs seldom ever did as a symptom of anxiety. That is understandable, according to Udell, given that even wolves reared by humans are tenser around humans. The wolves are behaving like one would anticipate wolves to behave.
When a stranger left the room and their carer entered, the wolves' pacing nearly completely halted. According to Hansen Wheat, wolves have never previously displayed that. It could indicate that the animals see the people who reared them as a "social buffer", more like a source of solace and support for them.
That is the aspect of the study that interests Udell the most. If true, she asserts, "This sort of attachment is not what separates dogs from wolves." In other words, it was not necessary for humans to have bred it into them; instead, human selection may have preferred it.
She theorizes that the pacing experiment would suggest that other wild animals could develop close relationships with people. She wonders if the hand-raised cheetah at the zoo sees its caretaker as simply a source of food or comfort. These connections could exist even if we are not aware of them. According to Hansen Wheat, the key to comprehending what transpired during dog domestication is to focus on their similarities.
However, the real question we should be asking is how much are they similar with their differences.
“Can Wolves Bond with People like Dogs Do?” Science, www.science.org/content/article/can-wolves-bond-people-dogs-do.
Hays, Brooks. “Wolves Can Bond with Their Human Handlers, but Still Unfit as Pets.” UPI, UPI, 14 Oct. 2020, www.upi.com/Science_News/2020/10/14/Wolves-can-bond-with-their-human-handlers-but-still-unfit-as-pets/2451602679119/.
Nield, David. “Wolves Really Can Become Attached to Humans like Dogs Can, Adorable Study Finds.” ScienceAlert, 23 Sept. 2022, www.sciencealert.com/wolves-really-can-become-attached-to-humans-like-dogs-can-adorable-study-finds.