Review: The influence of relationships on neophobia and exploration in wolves and dogs

Posted by on Oct 8, 2015 in Science Times | No Comments

According to “The influence of relationships on neophobia and exploration in wolves and dogs,” an experiment was conducted to explore the effect of social context and relationship between pack members on the neophobic responses and explorative behavior of wolves and dogs. The scientists involved with the study believe that the amount of neophobia in wolves and dogs may stem from their relationships to humans. They believe that wolves would be more neophobic to human-related objects because of the negative interactions between wolves and humans in the past, but dogs would be less neophobic because of domestication.

In the experiment, eleven wolves and thirteen dogs were raised by humans, regularly trained, and experienced the same things. They were exposed to other members of their respective species at the age of two to three months, and by the time the wolves and dogs were five months old, they were integrated into their respective packs such that each of the six packs contained at least one pair of siblings with the exception of the fifth pack. The packs lived in enclosures with similar features.

The wolves and dogs were tested in three ways: alone, in a pair, and with the pack. Each condition was tested twice. For the alone condition, the same two objects were used for everyone. For the pair condition, all combinations were tested. A total of thirty-eight objects were used to test the neophobic reactions in wolves and dogs. The objects were kept away from food and handled with clean hands to minimize the influence of familiar scents. Each test was recorded with two video cameras from different angles.

From the videos, six categories of data were collected: the likelihood of approaching the object; approach latency, or the time the individual(s) took to approach within one meter of the object; contact latency, or the time the individual(s) took to touch the object for the first time after approaching within one meter of the object; total time spent investigating, or the total time of interactions with the object from a distance; total time spent manipulating, or the total time of direct interactions with the object; and frequency of fleeing, which is moving away from the object with the tail tucked and body lowered. The data were used to calculate general linear mixed-effect models (GLMM) and linear mixed-effect models (LME) using software R. Some of the data were also displayed in boxplots.

While the authors concluded that wolves are indeed more neophobic than dogs, they also concluded that wolves are more interested and explorative than dogs. All of the wolves were observed to approach the new objects but not all dogs. The contact latency boxplots support more neophobia in wolves by showing that dogs were quick to approach new objects whereas wolves were slower. The duration of object investigation boxplots also show that wolves are more explorative because they investigated the new objects longer than dogs.

The results are consistent with previous knowledge. In a previous experiment involving wolves and dogs, the wolves were observed to be more attentive to physical objects in the environment than dogs. That correlates to the results of this experiment because the boxplots of duration of object investigation show that wolves spent a longer period of time investigating new objects than dogs.

While this experiment brings insight to wolf and dog behavior, the method of how the wolves were raised is flawed. The results would be a better representation of wolf behavior if the wolves in the experiment were wild rather than raised by humans. Hand-raised wolves would be easier to work with, but people don’t interact with raised wolves. Wolves live in the wild, which means that any wolf a human would run across would most likely be wild. Wild wolves would also be more neophibic than raised wolves because raised wolves would be more familiar and less afraid of people. For the people who live in areas with wolf populations, if they don’t want to see wolves in their yards, then they should not leave objects unfamiliar to wolves outside. While the wolves may be hesitant to approach the objects, they will spend time investigating the objects to determine any beneficial value and will most likely return if there is.




Main Citation

Moretti, L., Hentrup, M., Kotrschal, K., & Range, F. (2015) The influence of relationships on neophobia and exploration in wolves and dogs. Animal Behaviour. 107:159-173.


Secondary Citation

Boitani, L., & Mech, L. D. (2006). Wolves : Behavior, Ecology, and Conservation. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

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