Scientists unexpectedly witness wolf puppies play fetch
When it comes to playing a game of fetch, many dogs are naturals. But now, researchers report that the remarkable ability to interpret human social communicative cues that enables a dog to go for a ball and then bring it back also exists in wolves. The study appears January 16 in the journal iScience.
The findings were made serendipitously when researchers tested 13 wolf puppies from three different litters in a behavioral test battery designed to assess various behaviors in young dog puppies. During this series of tests, three 8-week-old wolf puppies spontaneously showed interest in a ball and returned it to a perfect stranger upon encouragement. The discovery comes as a surprise because it had been hypothesized that the cognitive abilities necessary to understand cues given by a human, such as those required for a game of fetch, arose in dogs only after humans domesticated them at least 15,000 years ago.
"When I saw the first wolf puppy retrieving the ball I literally got goose bumps," says Christina Hansen Wheat of Stockholm University, Sweden. "It was so unexpected, and I immediately knew that this meant that if variation in human-directed play behavior exists in wolves, this behavior could have been a potential target for early selective pressures exerted during dog domestication."
Hansen Wheat is interested in understanding how domestication affects behavior. To study this, she and her team raise wolf and dog puppies from the age of 10 days and put them through various behavioral tests. In one of those tests, a person ...
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