Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

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Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by pawnee » Fri Sep 26, 2008 9:09 pm

Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree
Filed under Research, Environment, Sciences on Tuesday, September 23, 2008


GAINESVILLE, Fla. — The common notion is that dogs evolved a special sensitivity to their human masters during domestication.

But new research, reported this week in a paper in the online edition of Animal Behavior, reveals that wolves raised by people are at least as good as — and perhaps better than — dogs at following human signals.

“When it comes to watching humans, anything dogs can do, wolves can do just as well,” said Clive Wynne, a UF associate professor of psychology and an author of the paper.

Every dog owner knows that dogs can be uncannily responsive to people — readily following commands, seemingly expressing sympathy and even appearing to anticipate their owners’ intentions.

Past research has suggested that over the 14,000 or so years that dogs have been living with humans, they have experienced genetic adaptations that made them more attuned to their two-legged companions than are any other animals.

Several studies have compared the abilities of dogs to those of the wild relatives that dogs left in the forest — wolves. One such study found that even wolves hand raised in captivity could not understand the sorts of cues dogs find very simple to grasp, such as following a person’s pointed finger to uncover hidden food. Another study found that while dog puppies could usually find the food, wolf pups almost never could.

Wynne, together with UF doctoral student Monique Udell and UF postdoctoral associate Nicole Dorey, decided to reexamine the question of the special skills of dogs compared to wolves. They were urged to do so by the operators of Wolf Park, a nonprofit research and education facility established in 1972 in Battle Ground, Ind. The park managers’ experience with captive wolves — 18 grey wolves in several packs — had left the impression the animals were highly attentive to people.

The researchers devised a simple test.

An assistant stood between two empty paint cans placed on the ground, each at least a half meter, or about 20 inches, from the assistant’s finger. With the wolf watching, the assistant pointed at one can or the other. If the wolf approached and either touched or came close to touching the container with its snout, it received a food reward.

The researchers performed the identical test on pet dogs in Gainesville,as well as with stray dogs at the county animal shelter. If dogs were predisposed to human attentiveness by genetic selection over thousands of years in human company, such strays should in theory perform as well as pets.

The result: Only the wolves and the pet dogs could follow the point “at above chance levels,” according to the Animal Behavior paper. Wolves appeared to have the upper paw: While the groups had very similar average overall performances, more individual wolves followed the point than did individual pet dogs.

“Arguably, the wolves are better,” Wynne said.

Karen Pryor, an internationally known animal trainer and author, said the fact that the strays could not respond to the human cues shows the importance of positive reinforcement early in life.

“Living in a hostile or restrictive environment, in which reinforcement for initiative is rare or absent, creates poor learners, who, like these abandoned dogs, may react to every stimulus but don’t have much capacity for learning new stuff themselves,” Pryor wrote in an e-mail. “That goes for people, too; and our educational system is an example.”

Wynne said the previous studies’ outcome may have been skewed by the experimental conditions, such as fences separating human testers and wolves. Dogs also were tested indoors, whereas wolves were always tested outdoors.

By contrast, the UF group tested dogs both indoors and outdoors – only the indoor dogs performed well, possibly because they were less distracted.

“We’re not suggesting for a moment that we don’t see differences in the behavior of dogs compared to wolves,” Wynne said “What we’re saying is, it’s not the change that has been thought. Given the chance, wolves can be just as attentive to humans as dogs are.”

Udell added that while it appears an initial bond with humans is required, once that bond is established, dogs and wolves are equally likely to learn attentiveness to humans.

That rule may extend to other species as well, she said.

“If it’s true that dogs are not inheriting some predisposition that allows them to follow a human point, but instead learn this skill within their environment,” she said, “that could say a lot about how we look at social cognition in other species, including our own.”

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Aaron Hoover, ahoover@ufl.edu, 352-392-0186
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Clive Wynne, wynne@ufl.edu, 352-273-2175
http://news.ufl.edu/2008/09/23/wolf-dog/
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Midnight Snow » Sat Sep 27, 2008 4:11 am

Now that's interesting. Great find, and thanks for sharing, Pawnee! ^.^

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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Inoushi » Sat Sep 27, 2008 8:11 am

Just goes to show that people who say wolves are poor learners, are in fact bad trainers.
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by king1-7 » Sat Sep 27, 2008 8:50 am

How ironic that this thread comes up right after that other one you posted on wolf training. XD

It's interesting to see that wolves might be better than dogs at following human commands, if trained correctly. The only reasons I can think of for training a wolf would be for movie roles or safety reasons. Are there other reasons?
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Inoushi » Sat Sep 27, 2008 8:57 am

Are there other reasons?
Another good reason to train wolves like this is so they can be ambassadors. A trained wolf could go to events that could promote the importance of wolf conservation. A trained wolf could also be a way to fight against myths, that wolves are vicious uncontrollable animals who are evil. Having a wolf like this at events for children could help make sure the newer generations won't share the same bias their parents may have. The possibilities are endless.
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by king1-7 » Sat Sep 27, 2008 8:59 am

Oh, so you have to actually train wolves that will be ambassadors? I always thought they were just habituated to human presence.
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Blindseer » Sat Sep 27, 2008 11:09 am

Inoushi wrote:
Are there other reasons?
Another good reason to train wolves like this is so they can be ambassadors. A trained wolf could go to events that could promote the importance of wolf conservation. A trained wolf could also be a way to fight against myths, that wolves are vicious uncontrollable animals who are evil. Having a wolf like this at events for children could help make sure the newer generations won't share the same bias their parents may have. The possibilities are endless.
the wolves at the IWC are all ambassadors, and as far as I know, they have not been trained at all.
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Inoushi » Sat Sep 27, 2008 11:21 am

Yes most ambassadors are not trained. However many ambassadors once they reach a certain age stay at their facility. I'm talking about an ambassador who will travel to different places and events. Also an ambassador who is trained allows for people to see the extent of the intellegence that the animal possess. Sometimes seeing an animal doing silly things like tricks is what it takes for people to look past their hatred and bias. It makes them question whether their view of the animal being a senseless killing machine is really accurate. And if the animal is trained well enough they can physically get close to and touch the animal, it will leave a long lasting impression. Particularly in children.
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Wolfie10 » Sun Sep 28, 2008 2:59 am

I love the title Barking Up The Wrong Tree.
But yeah Trainers are the ones making the mistakes! Not the wolves!
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Sula » Thu Oct 02, 2008 5:27 pm

Thanks for posting this I can use it for my science current events that i have to do.
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Kouga » Fri Oct 03, 2008 5:35 pm

:) So to raise a wolf you've got to show somehow that you know about wolves. If you raise a pup likewise like a dog and teach it that you're it's pack and that humans are no enemies, you could go to events and show people their mistake.

Is that right?
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by king1-7 » Fri Oct 03, 2008 5:47 pm

Well, any sort of captive wolf should be hand-raised, unless it's being held with the intention of releasing it into the wild. Also, let the wolf pup meet as many people as possible during the first couple months of its life. This way, the wolf pup is conditioned to humans and doesn't consider them threats. If a wolf has been raised to accept humans, it will be a much safer ambassador.

http://www.wolfpark.org/wolfdogs/wantwolf-jm.html

That link should answer most, if not all of your questions.
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Sula » Wed Oct 29, 2008 5:23 pm

I used this artical for current events in sccience i hope it makes people more aware of wolves
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by pawnee » Wed Oct 29, 2008 8:31 pm

king1-7 wrote:Well, any sort of captive wolf should be hand-raised, unless it's being held with the intention of releasing it into the wild. Also, let the wolf pup meet as many people as possible during the first couple months of its life. This way, the wolf pup is conditioned to humans and doesn't consider them threats. If a wolf has been raised to accept humans, it will be a much safer ambassador.

http://www.wolfpark.org/wolfdogs/wantwolf-jm.html

That link should answer most, if not all of your questions.

the wolves at haliburton forest are kept as wild as possible despite the fact that the pack lives in captivity. of course, the center was set up for research purposes... its not like a farm or anything.
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Re: Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree

Post by Black Spiral Dancer » Mon Nov 03, 2008 11:51 pm

[quote="pawnee"]Wolves show scientists are barking up the wrong tree
Filed under Research, Environment, Sciences on Tuesday, September 23, 2008

The problem with this kind of study is that stray dogs, like feral ones, may have learned to avoid humans and any "cues" they may give. It'd be like comparing apples and oranges.

Some of my work looked at puppies between 8 weeks and 24 weeks of age at local shelters and we found they were about as good as adult dogs. Certainly, when I compared this data to some human-raised and tame wolves they followed a similar pattern, as do cats by the way, with a particularly good owner.

The problem is that you can train an animal, especially a social carnivore like a wolf, many things. The point of the reference studies are whether there is an innate behavioral repertoire in wolves that allows them to do so. Chimps for example, can be trained do use human-given reference cues, but they don't so innately. Neither do wolves, most studies suggest. At least not in the same way dogs can.
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