Why wolves are better team players than dogs

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By Elizabeth Pennisi

Dogs may be social butterflies, but wolves are top dog when it comes to working together as a team.  That’s because unlike dogs, wolves haven’t evolved to avoid conflict; instead, members of a pack “sort things out” as they forage together, according to a new study. The work calls into question a long-held assumption that domestication fostered more cooperative individuals.

“This study is a fabulous first go at experimentally comparing the ability of wolves and dogs to cooperate with their groupmates,” says Brian Hare, a dog cognition expert at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who was not involved with the work. “Wolves run circles around dogs.”

We tend to think of dogs as team players because they work with us to hunt, rescue trapped people, herd livestock, and play. But though  dogs can be easily trained to work with people, it’s much harder to get them to work with fellow dogs. That’s especially true of village dogs, free-ranging canines with no owners or training that make up some 80% of the world’s pooches. They hang out in loose packs, surviving primarily on garbage and scraps. And there’s very little study of them, says Clive Wynne, a comparative psychologist at Arizona State University in Tempe.

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2 COMMENTS

  1. Dogs’ failure to cooperate in the rope pull test may not be a switch of cooperative attention from fellow dogs to humans, though sequential rather than parallel feeding is suggestive of a lack of trust in their fellow dogs perhaps from having a poor theory of doggy mind. It may rather be that the simultaneous rope pull is beyond their intellectual capacity.

    Domesticated animals are stupider with less brain capacity due to use it or lose it lack of survival-challenge.

    The issue of wolf dog brain sizes is not so obvious with great variations by region with wolves and huge variations in dogs. (Magnificent Afghan’s have that regal quality of not even knowing where they are, but their people will sort it out for them. Chaser the Collie knows a thousand words.)

    https://retrieverman.net/2012/07/05/the-problem-with-the-claims-about-brain-size-and-the-dog-domestication/

    This might offer an opportunity to test against this alternate hypothesis. Certainly a separate test for cognitive ability would help.

  2. @OP – We tend to think of dogs as team players because they work with us to hunt, rescue trapped people, herd livestock, and play.
    But though dogs can be easily trained to work with people,
    it’s much harder to get them to work with fellow dogs.

    I think to make a fair comparison between wolves and dogs, (as the OP tries to do) we need to separate domesticated dogs, – selected for co-operation with, and obedience to, humans.

    The work calls into question a long-held assumption that domestication fostered more cooperative individuals.

    “This study is a fabulous first go at experimentally comparing the ability of wolves and dogs to cooperate with their groupmates,”

    I think if we compare hunting packs of African Wild Dogs, with hunting packs of wolves, the level of co-operation and co-ordination between the dogs, is impressive!

    There are of course species differences in Canids, between pack hunters and those who live in small families, or as solitary individuals, especially in environments where prey is dispersed and food is scarce – foxes, desert wolves, jackals etc.

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