Dogs show a natural attachment to their human masters. They regard them as a source of protection and comfort and feel considerable anguish when forced to part ways. This emotional bond is, without a doubt, the strongest that human beings have established with an animal. However, it is not known when this link appeared. If it was forged little by little during the domestication of dogs at least 15,000 years ago or if the trait was already found in wolves, their ancestors.
A new study by researchers at the University of Stockholm (Sweden) concludes that bonding with people is not an exclusive trait of dogs. Young wolves also show this. Researchers tested twelve dogs and ten wolves at 23 weeks in an experiment known as the ‘strange situation’, originally created to study attachment between human infants and their mothers. The test measures how the stress of dealing with an unfamiliar person or environment causes the subject to seek closeness to their caregiver. The more you seek, the greater the attachment.
Wolves stress pad
As explained in the magazine “Ecology and evolution”All the animals in the experiment were raised by the researchers from the age of ten days, before they could open their eyes. They were bottle-fed and received all kinds of care.
In one such test, a familiar person and a stranger took turns entering and exiting a testing room, with the intention of creating a somewhat strange and stressful situation for the animal. The researchers wanted to know if wolves and dogs could distinguish between the familiar person and the strange person. That is, if they showed more affection and spent more time greeting and being in physical contact with the familiar person than with the unfamiliar person. If wolves and dogs did the same thing, it would indicate that this ability is not exclusive to dogs, i.e. it did not evolve specifically in dogs.
“That’s exactly what we saw”says Christina Hansen Wheat, professor of ethology and leader of the study. “It became very clear that wolves, like dogs, preferred the familiar person to the strange. But what was perhaps even more interesting was that while the dogs weren’t particularly affected by the situation test, the wolves were. The wolves were circling the room. But when the familiar person, who had been with the wolves all his life, reentered the room, the stimulation behavior stopped, indicating that the keeper acted as a social stress buffer for the wolves.”Explain. “It also complements the existence of a strong bond between the animals and the familiar person”highlighted.
For the researcher, these results contradict the hypothesis that the skills necessary to form an attachment with humans only appeared in dogs after their domestication. Hansen Wheat thinks the similarities between dogs and wolves may tell us something about the origin of the behavior we see in our pets.
And while it may surprise some that wolves are able to connect with a person in this way, she thinks in hindsight, it also makes sense. “Wolves showing attachment to humans might have had a selective advantage in the early stages of dog domestication”suggests.
Character font: JUDITH DE JORGE / ABC
Reference article: https://www.abc.es/ciencia/pueden-lobos-sentir-apego-humanos-20220920164954-nt.html