Wolves Can Get Really Attached To Humans Just Like Dogs, Adorable Study Says: ScienceAlert

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Few animals show as much affection and loyalty as dogs. But a new study offers evidence that the same human-animal attachment can also develop in wolves.

Whereas previous studies have suggested something similar, there isn’t much previous research on attachment between wolves and humans, and results have varied. Here, the study team wanted to take a standardized approach in which a test group of dogs and wolves were raised under identical circumstances from birth.

Between 40,000 and 15,000 years ago, dogs were domesticated from now-extinct species of wolves, and researchers believe their findings could shed new light on traits that evolved through domestication and on those who were there in the first place.

“Wolves showing human-directed attachment might have had a selective advantage in the early stages of dog domestication,” said ethologist and study lead author Christina Hansen Wheat of Stockholm University in Sweden.

The study examined the responses and behaviors of 12 Alaskan husky dogs and 10 European gray wolves (Canis lupus) in what is called the Strange Situation Testa standard scientific test originally used with children to judge attachment to their caregivers, and was adapted for dogs (and in this case, wolves) 20 years ago.

Having been reared from 10 days to 23 weeks of age by trained caregivers, the dogs and wolves were put through an experiment lasting approximately 15 minutes.

In it, the primary carer of the wolves and dogs took turns with an alien woman walking in and out of a room and engaging with the animals, either through active play or, if the animal engaged them, by stroking them.

Like dogs, wolves showed more affection and spent more time greeting the familiar person, and engaged in more physical contact. The familiar person was also more likely to be followed to the door when they left.

“It was very clear that the wolves, like the dogs, preferred the familiar person abroad,” says Hansen Wheat.

“But perhaps even more interesting was that while the dogs weren’t particularly affected by the test situation, the wolves were.”

Compared to dogs, wolves exhibited more stress and fear-related behaviors when dealing with strangers, including pacing, crouching, and tail-curling.

These behaviors coincided with the stranger entering the room and when the stranger and the wolf were in the room without the familiar person.

When the familiar human came back into the room, these behaviors became less pronounced. In other words, it seemed like the familiar person was acting as a kind of “social buffer” for the wolf.

Scientists continue to examine the ways in which dogs and wolves look alike and don’t look alike, in an effort to understand their evolutionary history – but it seems that in terms of how they relate to people, there are some key similarities. The differences, however, suggest areas that should be explored further in future research.

“With previous studies making important contributions to this question, I think it is now appropriate to entertain the idea that if there is variation in human-directed attachment behavior in wolves, it behavior could have been a potential target for early selective pressures exerted during dog domestication,” says Hansen Wheat.

The research has been published in Ecology and evolution.

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