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Decades of dog behavior research (Canis familiaris) suggested that its attachment characteristics to humans arose after its domestication by the latter, around 15,000 years ago. This phenotype may have been promoted during a specific evolution with humans. Recent studies, however, seem to contradict this widely accepted theory, and suggest that this characteristic phenotype was always present in its wolf ancestor (Canis lupus). A new study published in the journal Ecology and Evolution supports this hypothesis, revealing that wolves can be strongly attached to their caretakers. This attachment can be even deeper than dogs. This discovery may upset our understanding of the evolution of our dogs, whose domestic transition from his ancestors will eventually be misunderstood.
Numerous studies have shown that dogs develop and maintain deep emotional bonds with their masters, a lasting bond based on particular mutual trust. Most of the theories put forth are generally based on the fact that this behavior reflects their domestication by humans and that their wolf ancestors would have remained wild. This species (the wolf) is immediately the victim of prejudices and even humiliated through many stories and myths, according to which it cannot form any emotional bond and can only be a simple wild animal that is guided only his predatory instincts.
However, wolves are naturally friendly animals and show almost perfect social cohesion within a pack. Grooming and attachment behaviors can also be observed in wolves in the same group. One can reasonably suggest that by growing up with humans, these animals may adopt the same behavior, the attachment phenotype is already there. In addition, other wild animals have observed that proximity to humans makes them familiar.
” With previous studies that have made important contributions to this question, I think it is now appropriate to entertain the idea that if there is a change in human attachment to wolves, this behavior could be a potential target for early selective pressures exerted during dog domestication. “, explains Christina Hansen Wheat, ethology researcher at the University of Stockholm (in Sweden) and lead author of the new study. ” We felt it necessary to test it thoroughly “.
These past studies specifically suggest that, contrary to popular belief, wolves are able to attach themselves to humans, just like dogs. However, the tests conducted at the time were not thorough enough to confirm this hypothesis. A new study by Swedish researchers has established a method that reveals for the first time that the attachment to the wolf (raised from birth by people with conditions similar to domestic dogs) is stronger than the dog.
Students in the same way as dogs
To test their theory, Swedish researchers raised 10 calves and 12 puppies from the age of 10 days. For 23 weeks, the animals are raised in the same way, with dedicated keepers who are familiar with them. They are subjected to similar behavioral tests, one of which is to bring their handlers and unfamiliar people into their cage – causing a stressful situation for the animals. Similar experiences with infants show that a stressful environment can stimulate attachment behaviors, such as closeness and care-seeking.
The main purpose of these tests is to see if wolves, like dogs, can form special bonds with people they are familiar with. During the experiments, the 23-week-old Cubs automatically favored their caregivers, where they showed strong attachment behaviors. This result shows that this ability is not specifically developed in dogs.
In addition, researchers have found that wolves are more affected by stressful situations than dogs. ” It is very clear that wolves, like dogs, prefer familiar people abroad. But perhaps even more interesting is that while dogs are less affected by the test situation, wolves are. They walked into the testing room explained Hanser Wheat.
These results also show that the attachment bond that wolves develop with their caretakers may be deeper than that of dogs with their masters. In addition, the presence of the guards in the wolves’ cage will act as a buffer, because the latter will immediately stop being stressed by their presence. ” Wolves exhibiting human-directed attachment may have had a selective advantage in the early stages of dog domestication. “, concludes the expert.