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Understanding the Proximate Mechanisms of
Canine Cooperation

Final Report Summary - CANCOOP (Understanding the Proximate Mechanisms ofCanine Cooperation)

A number of domestication hypotheses suggest that dogs have acquired a more tolerant temperament compared to wolves, promoting cooperative interactions with humans and conspecifics (Emotional Reactivity Hypothesis, Hare & Tomasello 2005, Hare et al 2012). However, the socio-ecology of wolves and dogs, with the former relying more heavily on cooperative activities, predicts that at least with conspecifics, wolves would cooperate at least as well or even better than dogs (Canine Cooperation Hypotheses, Range & Virànyi 2014, Social Ecology Hypothesis, Marshall-Pescini et al. 2017). Moreover, while the first hypothesis does not allow for any predictions concerning how wolves and dogs interact with the environment, the social ecology hypothesis predicts that wolves would be more neophobic but also more persistent, risk-prone, and explorative than dogs due to their reliance on hunting.
In line with the latter hypotheses, in a number of experiments we found that wolves are more likely to take risks and while they need longer to approach novel objects, they are more explorative and more persistent when trying to solve a problem. In terms of their interactions with conspecifics, wolves are more attentive, prosocial and tolerant than dogs and engage in reconciliation after conflicts while dogs keep their distance. These results suggest that wolves and dogs differ in their attentiveness and positive attitudes towards each other and engage in different conflict management strategies with wolves being more prone to engage in conflicts but then reconcile, and dogs rather using conflict avoidance around resources and distance maintenance as a post-conflict strategy. Interestingly, these social strategies might also explain the fact that while wolves coordinated their actions so as to simultaneously pull two rope ends leading to success in a cooperative string-pulling task, dogs pulled the ropes in alternate moments, thereby never succeeding. The behaviour of the dogs was likely due to them avoiding potential competition over the apparatus, constraining their capacity to coordinate actions with their partners. Wolves, in contrast, did not hesitate to manipulate the ropes simultaneously, and once cooperation was initiated, rapidly learned to coordinate also in more complex conditions.
Interestingly, when cooperating with humans, wolves and dogs were both successful even when they had to coordinate in space and time to solve two apparatuses and when their human partner was delayed by 10 seconds. However, while wolves were more likely to initiate interactions with their human partners such taking over the leading role, dogs usually waited until the human started moving and then followed. The observation that human-socialized wolves easily accept humans as social partners, similarly to dogs was confirmed also in other experiments, where wolves needed to indicate to a human partner where food was hidden or, based on a demonstration by a human, find hidden food.
Our results call into question domestication hypotheses suggesting dogs’ heightened cooperative inclinations compared to wolves, and rather support the idea that dogs’ and wolves’ different social ecologies played a role in affecting their capacity for intraspecific cooperation. Moreover, the conflict avoidance strategy displayed towards conspecifics in combination with potential selection for accepting human’s leading role during domestication might have led to more compliant animals that are easier to keep and work. Thus, instead of seeing dogs and humans as having comparable and analogous skills due to a process of evolutionary convergence, we suggest that dogs were selected for skills that can complement human needs in the least problematic of manners. This challenges the popular view of dogs as a good non-human model of cognitive evolution.