Wolves and dogs are completely different despite being closely related, a new study found.
Scientists from the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna have undertaken experiments that suggest that wolves observe one another more closely than dogs and so are better at learning from one another.
The scientists believe that cooperation among wolves is the basis of the understanding between dogs and humans.
Wolves were domesticated more than 15,000 years ago and it is widely assumed that the ability of domestic dogs to form close relationships with humans stems from changes during the domestication process.
But the effects of domestication on the interactions between the animals have not received much attention. The point has been addressed by Friederike Range and Zsofia Viranyi, two members of the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna (Vetmeduni Vienna) who work at the Wolf Science Center (WSC) in Ernstbrunn, Niederosterreich.
The scientists found that wolves are considerably better than dogs at opening a container, providing they have previously watched another animal do so.
Their study involved 14 wolves and 15 mongrel dogs, all about six months old, hand-reared and kept in packs. Each animal was allowed to observe one of two situations in which a trained dog opened a wooden box, either with its mouth or with its paw, to gain access to a food reward.
Surprisingly, all of the wolves managed to open the box after watching a dog solve the puzzle, while only four of the dogs managed to do so.
Wolves more frequently opened the box using the method they had observed, whereas the dogs appeared to choose randomly whether to use their mouth or their paw.
The findings have been published online in the journal PLOS ONE.