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Wolves can show attachment toward humans: study

By ANI BUREAUS Published Sep 22, 2022 10:01 am

When it comes to showing affection toward people, many dogs are naturals. Now comes word that the remarkable ability to show attachment behavior toward human caregivers also exists in wolves, according to researchers from Stockholm University in Sweden.

The researchers subjected 10 wolves and 12 dogs in a behavioral test, in which they raised wolf and dog puppies from the age of 10 days. A familiar person and a stranger would take turns in coming in and out of a test room to create a somewhat strange and stressful situation for the animal.

In essence, what the researchers were looking for was if the wolves and dogs showed more affection toward the familiar person than the stranger, whether in greeting or physical contact.

During the test, 23-week-old wolves spontaneously discriminated between a familiar person and a stranger just as well as dogs did, and showed more proximity seeking and affiliative behaviors toward the familiar person. The presence of the familiar person also acted as a social stress buffer for the wolves calming them in a stressful situation.

The discoveries build on a slowly accumulating body of evidence contradicting the hypothesis: that the abilities necessary to form an attachment with humans arose in dogs only after humans domesticated them at least 15,000 years ago.

If wolves and dogs would do so equally, it would point toward this ability not being unique to dogs.

"That was exactly what we saw," said researcher Christina Hansen Wheat. "It was very clear that the wolves, as the dogs, preferred the familiar person over the stranger. But what was perhaps even more interesting was that while the dogs were not particularly affected by the test situation, the wolves were."

Wheat said similarities between dogs and wolves can tell us something about where the behavior we see in our dogs come from.

"Wolves showing human-directed attachment could have had a selective advantage in early stages of dog domestication," she said.

Wheat will continue to work with the data she and her team have collected over the course of three years hand-raising wolves and dogs under identical conditions to learn even more about their behavioral differences and similarities. (ANI)

(Editor's note: Minor changes were made in this republished article.)