Recent Study Indicates Wolves are Much Better at Observational Learning

Scientists pitted a group of wolves against a group of dogs by allowing them to observe a dog trained to open a container and then letting them have a go themselves. The wolves outperformed the dogs significantly. They found all the wolves were able to open the container while only just under 25% of the dogs were able to benefit from the trained dog’s demonstration.

In order to address whether the wolves superior ability was not due to a better problem solving ability they repeated the experiment without providing the wolves with an opportunity to see the trained dog. They found that the wolves rarely succeeded opening the container in that case.

If the wolves our dogs are descended from shared a similar ability was this observational trait a characteristic that made the human/wolf to human/dog transition possible. If so I wonder why such a trait has become diluted instead of enhanced in our dogs. There has been research to indicate that dogs are better than other species at interpreting human gesturing and I wondered what this experiment’s results would have been if the wolves and dogs were allowed to observe a human opening the canister in a manner they might be able to simulate and to what extent being equipped with a belief that the problem can be solved in itself might influence outcome as it reminds me of an experience I’ve had where I provided people with a key to a door that worked but did not work smoothly. Those that had seen me actually open the door persevered and succeeded while many of those that did not concluded that the key did not work.

Here’s a copy of the research paper. Wolves Are Better Imitators of Conspecifics than Dogs

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