Feb
6
2014

A new study from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna suggests that domestication has largely sapped dogs of their ability to learn from each other, at least compared to their wolf relatives.

The study, published in PLOS ONE, sought to determine whether domesticated dogs and wolves differ in their ability to observe and learn from each other.

University researchers enlisted 14 wolves and 15 mixed-breed dogs to participate in their study. All of the animals were approximately 6 months old, hand-reared, and kept in packs, according to Nature World News.

Researchers showed the animals one of two scenarios: one in which a trained dog used its mouth to open a box containing food, and one where the dog used its paws. The animals were then given their own boxes to open.

Wolves better at following by example, less successful with self-directed problem solving

According to the study, all of the wolves successfully opened their boxes compared to only four of the dogs. In addition, researchers reported that the wolves were more likely to open the boxes using the same method they had observed earlier.

The dogs were tested again at 9 months old to confirm that their young age and level of cognitive skill development hadn't hindered their performance, but older age did not improve dogs' performance, researchers reported.

The researchers also wanted to learn whether wolves are simply better at solving some problems than dogs, so they tested the animals on the box-opening task without previously showing them the task being demonstrated. The wolves mostly failed this version of the test, researchers reported.

Findings from the study led researchers to conclude that whereas wolves continue to look to their own kind for learning purposes, dogs have come to see humans as social partners over time and now observe humans for demonstrations rather than other dogs

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