Mowgli’s lupine family in ‘The Jungle Book’ may not be entirely based on fiction, as scientists have found that wolves can actually bond with humans.
The wild animals are able to distinguish between strangers and people they know, and show much more affection to those they know than even dogs do.
Researchers at Stockholm University in Sweden tested 10 wolves and 12 dogs to investigate how they behaved in strange and stressful situations.
The wolves showed affection for the caregiver they knew best by coming closer to them and taking longer to greet them.
This finding contradicts the idea that dogs’ attachment to humans only developed after humans domesticated them.
Instead, wolves demonstrating this association could have had a selective advantage in the early stages of dog domestication, according to lead author Dr. Christina Hansen Wheat.
Wolves are able to distinguish between strangers and people they know and show much more affection to those they know than even dogs do (stock image)
Researchers at Stockholm University in Sweden tested 10 wolves and 12 dogs to investigate how they behaved in strange and stressful situations. The team hand-raised the wolf and dog puppies in identical conditions from the age of ten days, and they took the test when they reached 23 weeks. Left: Pictured: Wolf pup Björk. Right: Wolf pup Hendrix
HOW DID DOGS BECOME TAMES?
A genetic analysis of the world’s oldest known dog remains revealed that dogs were domesticated in a single event by humans living in Eurasia around 20,000 to 40,000 years ago.
Dr. Krishna Veeramah, an assistant professor of evolution at Stony Brook University, told MailOnline: ‘The current hypothesis is that the domestication of dogs probably arose passively, with a population of wolves somewhere in the world living on the fringes of hunter-gatherer camps, feeding on waste created by humans.
‘The wolves, who were tamer and less aggressive, would have been more successful at this, and although the humans did not initially benefit from this process, over time they would have developed a kind of symbiotic [mutually beneficial] relation to these animals, eventually developing into the dogs we see today.’
Domestication of dogs was known to occur at least 15,000 years ago, when gray wolves and dogs diverged from an extinct wolf species.
Many researchers believe that their ability to form attachments to humans developed around the same time—probably over thousands of years as they became domesticated.
Dr. However, Hansen Wheat believed that people may have selectively bred dogs based on a pre-existing attachment characteristic.
To test this theory, they used a behavioral test specifically designed to quantify attachment behavior in dogs, called the Strange Situation Test.
This was originally developed for human infants, but here it could reveal whether domestication affected dogs’ attachment to humans.
It is a seven-step procedure in which a familiar person or a stranger interacts with the experimental animal in a room and its reactions are monitored.
In one of these stages, the familiar person and the stranger alternate entering and exiting the room to create a strange and stressful situation for the animal.
The theory is that this unstable environment will stimulate the animal’s attachment behavior.
As the animals go through the tests, they look for signs that the wolves and dogs distinguish between the familiar person and the stranger.
These could include showing more affection or spending more time greeting and in physical contact with the familiar person.
Proportion of time wolf (red) and dog (blue) pups demonstrated attachment behavior towards or in the presence of a familiar person vs a stranger. A slanted line shows discrimination between the two people. A: Greeting, B: Following, C: Physical contact, D: Standing at the door, E: Exploration, F: Social play, G: Passive behavior
The team hand-raised wolf and dog pups under identical conditions from ten days old to prepare them for the test, which they took when they reached 23 weeks.
During the test, the wolves spontaneously distinguished between a familiar person and a stranger as well as dogs did.
They also showed more proximity-seeking and affiliative behavior towards the familiar person.
In addition, the presence of the familiar person acted as a social stress buffer for the wolves and calmed them down in a stressful situation.
Behavioral ecologist Dr. Hansen Wheat said: ‘It was very clear that the wolves, like the dogs, preferred the familiar person to the stranger.
“But what was perhaps even more interesting was that although the dogs were not particularly affected by the test situation, the wolves were.
‘They walked around the testing room.
‘But what was remarkable was that when the familiar person, a hand lifter who had been with the wolves all their lives, re-entered the test room, the pacing behavior stopped, indicating that the familiar person was acting as a social stress buffer for the wolves .
‘I don’t think this has ever been shown to be the case for wolves before, and this also complements the existence of a strong bond between the animals and the well-known person.’
Dr. Hansen Wheat said: ‘It was very evident that the wolves, like the dogs, preferred the familiar person to the stranger.’ In the picture: Lead author Dr. Hansen Wheat and the wolf Lemmy
Proportion of time wolf (red) and dog (blue) pups demonstrated stress and fear behaviors during the seven stages (‘episodes’) of the Strange Situation Test. A: Pacing, B: Crouching, C: Tail tucking
These results, published today in Ecology and evolutionsuggests that the ability to distinguish between a familiar person and a stranger is not unique to dogs.
Therefore, the authors conclude that human attachment was not bred into dogs through domestication, and could have arisen through selective breeding of wolves.
Dr. Hansen Wheat said, “If variation in human-directed attachment behavior exists in wolves, this behavior could have been a potential target for early selective pressure exerted during dog domestication.”
Is THIS how dogs became man’s best friend? Gene mutations made puppies more comfortable with people
Since dogs were first domesticated, they have become one of the most popular species of companion animals around the world.
But until now it has been unclear why animals became ‘man’s best friend’.
Now researchers from Azabu University in Japan believe they have the answer after discovering two key gene mutations in dogs.
These mutations may have played a role in their domestication by lowering stress and making puppies more comfortable interacting with humans, according to the team.
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