When wolf pups are raised as dogs, they start to become attached to humans, a news study has found. But this is where the similarities end, as the wolf still retains its wild tendencies and can never be fully domesticated or turned into a pet.
Researchers undertook the study as early experiments have suggested that wolves show no attachment to humans once pups had reached around four months of age. If this were true, then it would raise interesting questions as to how the wild animals were first tamed and then domesticated thousands of years ago. So a team of scientists wanted to look again at this work, and found some surprisingly different results, which they published in Royal Society Open Science.
They took 10 gray wolves (seven females and three males) and hand-reared them with extensive human socialization. Separated from their mothers within the first week of being born, the pups were taken into the homes of the handlers, where they were socialized for up to 24 hours a day. They were kept in an urban environment, walked on a leash, and exposed to unfamiliar humans and animals on a daily basis. After a few months of being raised by humans, they were eventually introduced back to the pack at the animal park in which they were born.
The wolves were then tested as to how they responded to different humans. They were tested on how they reacted to their handler, close acquaintances to the handler, people they had met once before, and total strangers.
In two sets of experiments, the first done with the wolf pups at six months old, and the other done when they were 12 and 24 months old, the researchers found that in general, the pups would readily and willingly go up to and approach anyone who came into the room. This suggests that the animals have gained and, importantly, remembered some form of human attachment, similar to dogs. It could, therefore, help explain how man’s best friend was domesticated in the first place.
But don’t be fooled by the idea that just because hand-reared wolves can become attached to their owners, it means they can make good pets. Wolves and dogs are separated by at least 15,000 years of evolution, taking vastly diverging paths.
This latest study was simply looking into whether or not that initial penchant for domestication existed in the ancestors of domestic dogs, or if it was somehow selected for as we first tamed them. During the long domestication process that has occurred, humans have ironed out and many of the negative and dangerous traits that wolves – and wolf-dog hybrids – still display, and at the same time selected for the desirable ones we want.