Sep 20, 2022
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Wolves can show affection towards humans

Wolves can show affection towards humans

The ability of dogs to show affection for humans is well known. Some scholars argue that this ability to form strong attachments to humans only emerged in dogs after they were domesticated 15,000 years ago. However, a team of researchers led by Stockholm University in Sweden found that wolves are also able to show affection for humans – a surprising finding that could disprove the domestication hypothesis.

After raising wolf and dog puppies from ten days old to 23 weeks old, the scientists conducted a series of behavioral tests aimed at quantifying Canid attachment behavior. Tests have shown that both species are able to spontaneously distinguish between familiar and unfamiliar people and show more desire for closeness and affection towards a familiar person. Moreover, the presence of a familiar person acted as a social stress buffer for the wolves, helping them to calm down in stressful situations.

“It was quite clear that wolves, like dogs, preferred a familiar person to a stranger. But perhaps even more interesting was that while dogs weren’t particularly affected by the test situation, wolves were,” said study lead author Kristina Hansen Wit, behavioral ecologist at Stockholm University.

“They paced around the test room. However, it is notable that when a familiar person, a hand guide who had been with the wolves all their lives, re-entered the room, the behavior of the wolves stopped, indicating that the familiar person was acting as a buffer social stress for wolves. I don’t think this has ever been shown for wolves before, and it also adds to the existence of a strong bond between animals and familiar human.”

According to Dr. Hansen Witt, these similarities between wolves and dogs may shed light on where the behavior we now see in dogs comes from.

“Together with earlier research that has made important contributions to this question, I think it is now appropriate to consider the idea that if variations in human attachment behavior exist in wolves, then this behavior could be a potential target for early selective pressure exerted during time for the domestication of dogs. Wolves showing human affection may have had a selective advantage in the early stages of dog domestication,” she concluded.

The study was published in the journal Ecology and Evolution.

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