Dogs: Dumber or Smarter Than Wolves?

This image is no longer available

Photos by Peter Kaut and Walter Vorbeck

Wolves are better at learning from each other than domestic dogs are and observe each other more closely.

That ability of wolves, researchers believe, has been transferred to dogs’ interaction with humans.

Cooperation among wolves is the basis of the understanding between dogs and humans, suggest researchers at Vienna’s University of Veterinary Medicine.

The scientists found that wolves are considerably better than dogs at opening a container, providing they have previously watched another animal do so.

Their study involved 14 wolves and 15 mongrel dogs, all about six months old, hand-reared and kept in packs. Each animal was allowed to observe one of two situations in which a trained dog opened a wooden box, either with its mouth or with its paw, to gain access to a food reward.

Surprisingly, all of the wolves managed to open the box after watching a dog solve the puzzle, while only four of the dogs managed to do so.

Wolves more frequently opened the box using the method they had observed, whereas the dogs appeared to choose randomly whether to use their mouth or their paw.

To exclude the possibility that six-month old dogs fail the experiment because of a delayed physical or cognitive development, the researchers repeated the test after nine months. The dogs proved no more adept at opening the box than they were at a younger age.

Another possible explanation for the wolves’ apparent superiority at learning is that wolves might simply be better than dogs at solving such problems. To test this idea, the researchers examined the animals’ ability to open a box without prior demonstration by a dog. They found that the wolves were rarely successful.

“Their problem-solving capability really seems to be based on the observation of a dog performing the task,” say researchers. “The wolves watched the dog very closely and were able to apply their new knowledge to solve the problem.”

Dog owners, however, will know that their pets wait for people to solve problems for them.