Wolves turn out to be much nicer than dogs in touchscreen experiment

Wolves often press their muzzles on the touchscreen to provide their congeners with some goodies.

Which of the two is more pro-social; the dog or the wolf? Researchers started using this question in a new study. Indeed, some scientists assume that dogs are more social than their wild relatives, because dogs have lived side by side with people for thousands of years. But is that actually correct?

Pro-social behavior is a voluntary action intended to help another person, without directly benefiting the helping self. This behavior is very important for collaboration. And since wolves have to work together a lot, it would not be surprising if wolves are more pro-social than dogs. Although many different and conflicting hypotheses are circulating, researchers decided to put the test to the test in a new study. Which of the two - the dog or the wolf - is more willing to hand out treats?

Touch screen
The researchers observed nine wolves and six dogs that live in packs at the Wolf Science Center. They trained each animal to press their snout on the 'give' symbol that appeared on a touchscreen. The result of this was clear: if you push that button, the animal in the adjacent cage - which can be seen through a grille - gets some goodies.

Wolfen from the experiment. Image: Dale et al., 2019

Wolf vs dog
During several experiments, researchers discovered that the wolves distributed food considerably more often to the neighboring loft if they had a similar species. It also appears that wolves prefer to hand out goodies to fellow dogs of their own pack, than to a wolf from another pack. However, two friendly wolves made an exception to that and with their snouts frequently pressed the 'give' symbol for every wolf that was put into the adjacent cage. Dogs, on the other hand, were less generous to their counterparts and less often distributed treats.

Since both species grew up under the same conditions, the findings suggest that wolves are more pro-social than their domestic relatives. It means that pro-social behavior in dogs comes from a trait inherited from their ancestors. "Our study shows that the domestication of dogs did not necessarily make them pro-social," says researcher Rachel Dale. "Tolerance and generosity towards the pack contribute to good cooperation, as can be seen in wolves."

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