Wolf Pups Wouldn't Be As Friendly As Your Dog No Matter How They're Raised

Researchers have been conducting some investigations into comparisons between domesticated dogs and their wild cousins, the wolf. Any dog owner knows that dogs can understand and respond appropriately to multiple commands. One example is telling your dog to get the ball or their favorite toy, and the dog goes directly to it. Researchers say that while the ability of your dog to understand what you're telling it and respond correctly might seem unremarkable, it's a complex cognitive ability that's rare in the animal kingdom.

For instance, the closest relative to humans in the animal kingdom, chimpanzees, are unable to do it. Interestingly, the closest relative in the wild to the domesticated dog is the wolf, and it's unable to perform the same task. A new study led by Duke University has found that after more than 14,000 years of spending time with humans, something interesting has happened to the mind of the domesticated dog.

Researchers say it's known as "theory of mind" abilities or mental skills that allow dogs to infer what humans think and feel in some situations. The study compared 44 dog and 37 wolf puppies between five and 18 weeks old. The study wanted to support the idea that domestication changed not only how dogs look but changed their mind as well.

The wolf puppies were genetically tested to ensure they were not wolf-dog hybrids. The will puppies were raised with lots of human interaction, including being fed by hand and sleeping in the bed of their caretakers each night. Each of the wolf puppies received virtually round-the-clock care from a human from only days after birth. By comparison, the dog puppies lived with their mother and littermates with less human contact.

The animals were later tested with one test having the researchers hide a treat in one of two bowls, then giving each dog and wolf puppy a clue to help them find the food. In some trials, the researchers would point and gaze in the direction where the food was hidden. In others, a small wooden block was placed beside the right spot, which was a gesture puppies had never seen before.

Even with no specific training, the team found dog puppies as young as eight weeks old understood where to go and were twice as likely to get it right as wolf puppies of the same age that had been around people for far longer. In addition, 17 out of the 31 dog puppies consistently went to the correct bowl, while none of the 26 wolf pups performed better than a random guess. The team says that dog puppies got it right on the first trial in many instances with no training necessary, showing that they simply "get it."