Study shows wolves' 'social skills'

Scientists believe wolves have social skills that may have helped them become domesticated by humans thousand of years ago.

Wolves have social skills that may have contributed to their domestication thousands of years ago.

Research suggests they can learn where food is hidden by watching humans and recognise when an attempt is made to fool them.

When early humans began to tame wolves, they may have built on this ability to learn from others, scientists believe.

Recent research suggests that humans domesticated dogs around 18,000 years ago. Possibly the first dog to be domesticated was a European grey wolf that is now extinct.

But how much of the dog's ability to communicate with humans developed over time and how much arose from wild traits is unclear.

In the new study, scientists investigated whether wolves can learn where to look for food hidden in a field by watching the actions of a familiar "demonstrator" - either a human or a trained dog.

Eleven captive-born grey wolves were studied at the Wolf Science Centre in Ernstbrunn, Austria.

Both wolves and dogs were two to four times more likely to find a snack after watching a human or dog demonstrator hide it. This implies they learned from observation rather than relying solely on their sense of smell.

They rarely looked for the food when the human demonstrator only pretended to hide it, indicating that they were watching very carefully.

The wolves were less likely to follow dog demonstrators to hidden food, said researchers Dr Friederike Range and Dr Zsofia Virany, from the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna.

"The ability to learn from other species, including humans, is not unique to dogs but was already present in their wolf ancestors," said the scientists.

"Prehistoric humans and the ancestors of dogs could build on this ability to better co-ordinate their actions."

The findings are reported in the journal Frontiers in Psychology.

2 min read
Published 4 December 2013 at 8:12am
Source: AAP