Several years ago, scientists at Eotvos University in Budapest wanted to determine whether the social-cognitive differences among dogs and wolves was primarily genetic or experiential. To do this, they hand-raised a group of dog puppies and a group of wolf pups from birth, resulting in roughly equivalent experiences. Any differences between the two groups’ social cognitive skills, then, would be attributable to genetics.
Wolf and dog pups were raised by humans starting four to six days after birth, before their eyes had fully opened. For the first months of their lives, the wolf and dog pups were in close contact with their human foster parents nearly twenty-four hours per day. They lived in the homes of their caregivers and slept with them at night. They were bottle-fed, and starting on the fourth or fifth week of life, hand fed with solid food. Their human caregivers carried them in a pouch so that the wolf pups and dog puppies could participate in as much of their daily activities as possible: traveling on public transportation, attending classes, visiting friends, and so on. Each of the pups had extensive experience meeting unfamiliar humans, and at least twice a week, they were socialized with each other as well as with unfamiliar adult dogs. The guiding principle for the hand-rearing paradigm, according to the researchers, was based not upon competition or aggressive interactions, but “to behave rather like a mother than a dominant conspecific.”
Would wolves, having been raised by humans, demonstrate social-cognitive skills that approached the sophistication of dogs? Or is social-cognitive aptitude encoded in dogs’ genes, a direct result of domestication?
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