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When dogs look back: inhibition of independent problem-solving behaviour in domestic dogs ( Canis lupus familiaris) compared with wolves ( Canis lupus)

By M. A. R. Udell

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Abstract

Domestic dogs have been recognized for their social sensitivity and aptitude in human-guided tasks. For example, prior studies have demonstrated that dogs look to humans when confronted with an unsolvable task; an action often interpreted as soliciting necessary help. Conversely, wolves persist on such tasks. While dogs' 'looking back' behaviour has been used as an example of socio-cognitive advancement, an alternative explanation is that pet dogs show less persistence on independent tasks more generally. In this study, pet dogs, shelter dogs and wolves were given up to three opportunities to open a solvable puzzle box: when subjects were with a neutral human caretaker, alone and when encouraged by the human. Wolves were more persistent and more successful on this task than dogs, with 80% average success rate for wolves versus a 5% average success rate for dogs in both the human-in and alone conditions. Dogs showed increased contact with the puzzle box during the encouragement condition, but only a moderate increase in problem-solving success. Social sensitivity appears to play an important role in pet and shelter dogs' willingness to engage in problem-solving behaviour, which could suggest generalized dependence on, or deference to, human action.

Publication Title Biology Letters
Volume 11
Issue 9
Pages 20150489
ISBN/ISSN 1744-9561
DOI 10.1098/rsbl.2015.0489
Language English
Author Address Department of Animal and Rangeland Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331, USA.moniqueudell@gmail.com
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Tags
  1. Animal behavior
  2. Animals
  3. Canidae
  4. Canine
  5. Carnivores
  6. Dogs
  7. Mammals
  8. peer-reviewed
  9. Relationships
  10. species differences
  11. vertebrates
  12. Wolves
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  1. peer-reviewed