Wolves are big and powerful, their packs work as cohesive teams, and they’ve been a symbol of fear for centuries. (Big Bad Wolf, anyone?) So how is it that dogs, our goofy little pals, managed to evolve from them? Through observing the key differences between wolves and dogs in a study from Royal Society Open Science, a team of scientists has been able to reverse engineer an explanation for this change, and it’s largely a social one.
At the Wolf Science Center in Vienna, Austria, they observed four captive wolf packs and four captive dog packs living in identical enclosures and watched to see how they handled negative interactions. At first glance, wolves were unsurprisingly much more aggressive, tallying 419 aggressive interactions to only 55 from the dogs.
Those stats would certainly seem to suggest that dogs are less aggressive, right? Well, not exactly. Within these tallies, 86 percent of the dog conflicts were classified as “high-intensity aggressions,” while only 59 percent of wolf conflicts were classified as the same. Some of the dog fights were so intense, an intervention was required.
What’s more, 42 percent of the wolves reconciled almost immediately after the conflict, while the dogs, as far as the scientists could tell, never settled their differences at all. Perhaps they didn’t even know how to.
So why do we think this is? The domestication process of dogs seems to have started around 40,000 years ago, and once they established friendships with humans, inter-dog friendships were de-emphasized. Communication between dogs worsened because they no longer relied on each other for food and shelter, and as the frequency of that communication lessened, dogs started having more aggressive interactions with each other when they did cross paths.
Today, when you go to a dog park, what you’re going to see is dogs running around, wrestling, sitting on their owners’ laps, and generally avoiding each other. They’re just a bunch of anti-social or, at best, socially awkward weirdos, and the kicker is, it’s all our fault. Think about that the next time you’re snuggling with a pup.
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