Biology

Scientists get goosebumps after undomesticated wolf puppies play fetch

Scientists get goosebumps afte...
Scientists were left with goosebumps after making the unexpected discovery that some wolf puppies can naturally fetch an object
Scientists were left with goosebumps after making the unexpected discovery that some wolf puppies can naturally fetch an object
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Scientists were left with goosebumps after making the unexpected discovery that some wolf puppies can naturally fetch an object
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Scientists were left with goosebumps after making the unexpected discovery that some wolf puppies can naturally fetch an object

Behavioral ecologists in Sweden have been left dumbfounded after wolf puppies raised in their care exhibited a totally unexpected ability to retrieve a tennis ball much like a domesticated dog. The observation reshapes our understanding of how these wild creatures interpret cues from humans, and also sheds light on how the early stages of dog domestication may have played out.

The research was carried out by scientists at Stockholm University, who are raising wolf and dog puppies from the age of 10 days to investigate how domestication impacts behavior. This involves putting them through a variety of tests, one of which involved a stranger throwing a tennis ball across a room and encouraging the puppies to bring it back.

The team had no expectations going in, and the first two sets of wolf litters to take part in the experiment did nothing to change that by showing little to no interest in the balls. But in the third litter the scientists tested, three eight-week-old wolf puppies chased after the ball. They then defied expectations further by reacting to cues from the strangers to bring the ball back.

"It was very surprising that we had wolves actually retrieving the ball," says lead author, Christina Hansen Wheat from Stockholm University. "I did not expect that. I do not think any of us did. It was especially surprising that the wolves retrieved the ball for a person they had never met before."

Previous to this discovery, it was thought that dogs only acquired the cognitive abilities for tasks like retrieving an object after humans domesticated them more than 15,000 years ago. According to Hansen, this new understanding of wolf puppy behavior can offer some lessons about how dogs evolved to naturally retrieve things (well, some of them at least).

"When I saw the first wolf puppy retrieving the ball I literally got goose bumps," says Christina Hansen Wheat of Stockholm University, Sweden. "It was so unexpected, and I immediately knew that this meant that if variation in human-directed play behavior exists in wolves, this behavior could have been a potential target for early selective pressures exerted during dog domestication."

The research was published in the journal iScience.

Source: Cell Press via ScienceDaily

17 comments
N shaw
Can these morons at least play with the wolves outdoors? Bring some heaters if it’s cold. This looks horrible for the wolves. Where are they kept? This looks awful.
KaiserPingo
The shown room is NOT where the wolfs are kept.

But the whole project shows, that these scientists have no experience in working with animals and knowledge of how intelligent animals in general are.
sadly that most people has been decoupled from nature and thinks that we are some totally different entity.
Knut
It's amazing what 50 miles can create of difference. Well, our rivers run in the direction of the USA and the wolves here breed with local dogs and here they make puppies. These puppies are raised as half breed puppies and we know well how they behave - just like dogs, but you certainly see that they are wolves. We stop that they can make puppies and can *not* breed. But on this side of the border, right close to Oslo, they survive as farm dogs that will fetch a stick or a ball. They will often chase wild game and sheep but are not "hunting dogs". The problem is children with the semi-wolves. Their blood is that of wolves still.
The inbreeding of wolves, also where wolves in nature originate from a domestic dog exists on the American side of the border. It is very common, and we take it for granted that the same happens at their side of the fence. There is no physical red line that marks the border, and wolves to not carry passports. But they are welcomed. There is a train service to Oslo. Get off the ride before the main station and walk back to Sweden for 10 miles, and they are in an area of wolves that has litters with domestic dogs and domestics dogs have made cubs with the wolves.
Harry de Groot
I think we can still learn a lot and of course not only from the wolves!
Animals still surprise me every day.
paul314
Do subordinate wolves bring items to their superiors in a pack?
Aross
I have to assume that these scientists spent their whole existence cloistered in some book library room. They must never have watched documentaries about wolves in the wild. Their pups are often shown playing at retrieving things and returning them to the parents.
Also when I was a teenager many years ago there was a man in our suburban neighbourhood who had found 2 timber wolf pups near deaths door while on a hunting trip and brought them home. His intention was to raise them and release them back to the wild. When he tried that they refused to leave him. In the end he kept them as pets. These 2 animals, both males, were the as gentile as any domestic dog but were fierce watch dogs when needed.

I wonder how much money, that could have been spent on more beneficial research, was wasted on this.
neoneuron
They are nothing more than a wild or (feral) dog. just like baby foxes. They are friendly. Even wildcats and mountain lions domestically raised exhibit SOME domestic traits. One HUGE cat is on exhibition even near my house. (Scary looking - but "friendly"). The scientists have to get out more.
But - You can't forget that they will always be wild, potentially dangerous, and you have to respect that. Unless you have a REAL good hospital policy... Or like having you face taken off.
Worzel
It's a natural part of dog/wolf development for puppies to play. Like all kids, some prefer one type of game to another. I think these behavioural ecologists need to learn what comes natural, before they get surprised by it.
Username
Where do these so called scientist think dogs came from?
laleske
Seems like a repeat of the domestication of foxes by Russian scientists in the late 1950s.