Wolves raised like dogs can develop attachments to people

Wolves may develop a closer attachment to the people who raise them than initially thought.

Researchers from Eötvös Loránd University in Hungary, in an effort to explore human-wolf relationships, wanted to see if wolves could form an attachment to their caregiver. Previous studies had suggested that wolves raised by people would develop a general attachment to people but not a stronger attachment to their caregivers than strangers. It had been suggested that this could be due to the fact that the capacity to form a specific attachment to humans could have evolved in dogs during the process of domestication. The research was published in the journal Royalty Society Open Science at the end of June 2017.

Two experiments were set up to look at the wolves’ attachment to people. Both involved young wolves being approached by four different types of visitors: a complete stranger, a stranger they had seen once before, a close acquaintance they had seen at least once a week since the age of four weeks, and their foster parents. For this study, foster parents took in the wolf puppies before their eyes had opened and took them everywhere, spending over 20 hours a day with the puppies.

In the first experiment, the researchers observed group of four young socialized wolves responding to different visitors. The wolves were six months old and were greeted in groups to give them more confidence in their interactions with the different people. The results of these observations showed that wolves stayed in contact with their foster parents significantly longer than any other visitor type and also wagged their tails and jumped on their foster parents more than other visitors. Close acquaintances were more likely to be greeted with wagging tails and jumping than strangers were.

The second experiment was conducted when the wolves were older—either 12 or 24 months old. In this experiment, the wolves were by themselves in the yard and approached by the different visitors. From these observations, researchers noted that wolves sought proximity and contact with foster parents more than either stranger type and presented more tail wagging and jumping than with strangers. However, there was a less significant difference between foster parents and close acquaintances.

In the second experiment, wolves were also more likely to present fear behaviors like tucking their tails and crouching with strangers than they were for foster parents or close acquaintances.

The researchers noted that differences in greeting behavior were more pronounced with the younger wolves than the older ones, which suggests that the unique status of foster parents becomes less distinct as the wolves get older. All the wolves who were hand reared and socialized had developed a general affinity for people. If wolves are going to be raised in captivity and not released into the wild at any point, the researchers further suggest that those wolves should be hand reared to create an attachment to people that will give the wolves less stress and present less risk of injury to the handlers.

Photo credit: © iStock/RamiroMarquezPhotos

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