Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Why Wolves Are Wild, Dogs Are Tame

Academic journal article The Science Teacher

Why Wolves Are Wild, Dogs Are Tame

Article excerpt

Dogs and wolves are genetically so similar, it has been difficult for biologists to understand why wolves remain fiercely wild, while dogs can gladly become "man's best friend." Now, doctoral research by evolutionary biologist Kathryn Lord at the University of Massachusetts Amherst suggests the different behaviors are related to the animals' earliest sensory experiences and the critical period of socialization. Details appear in the journal Ethology.

Until now, little was known about sensory development in wolf pups, and assumptions were usually extrapolated from what is known for dogs, Lord explained. This would be reasonable, except scientists already know there are significant differences in early development between wolf and dog pups, chief among them timing of the ability to walk.

To address this knowledge gap, she studied responses of seven wolf pups and 43 dogs to both familiar and new smells, sounds, and visual stimuli, tested them weekly, and found they did develop their senses at the same time. But her study also revealed new information about how the two subspecies of Canis lupus experience their environment during a four-week developmental window called the critical period of socialization, and the new facts may significantly change understanding of wolf and dog development.

When the socialization window is open, wolf and dog pups begin walking and exploring without fear and will retain familiarity throughout their lives with those things they contact. Domestic dogs can be introduced to humans, horses, and even cats at this stage and be comfortable with them forever. But as the period progresses, fear increases, and after the window closes, new sights, sounds, and smells will elicit a fear response. …

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