Dogs Flub Test of Problem Solving: Pets and Shelter Animals More Likely Than Wolves to Give Up

By Milius, Susan | Science News, October 17, 2015 | Go to article overview

Dogs Flub Test of Problem Solving: Pets and Shelter Animals More Likely Than Wolves to Give Up


Milius, Susan, Science News


Humans may be a bad influence on their best friends--at least when it comes to problem solving. Dogs that have lived around people lagged behind wolves in a task that wasn't very tough: tugging a lid off a food container.

Only one of 20 dogs got the lid off a plastic storage box and gobbled the sausage treat inside, reports Monique Udell of Oregon State University in Corvallis. Yet eight of 10 wolves gnawed, pawed and ripped their way into the container.

The social tendencies of dogs may be getting in the way of persistent, independent struggling that would have freed the treat, Udell suggests September 16 in Biology Letters. The dogs (10 pets and 10 shelter dogs with some history as pets) typically spent 10 to 15 percent of their time gazing at the nearest person and 5 percent or less touching the container. Wolves raised and fed by people but living outdoors, however, barely looked at a nearby person. They typically devoted about 90 percent of the two-minute trial to grappling with the treat box.

Even with no person around, the dogs didn't paw or mouth the box much, Udell found. Once again, only one dog retrieved the treat. When a person hovered over the dogs and actively encouraged them to keep trying to open the box, the dogs did spend more time engaged with the problem--and a few more opened the box--but they still did not match the wolves.

One way to look at the results is that "wolves are practical problem solvers and dogs are social problem solvers," says Clive Wynne of Arizona State University in Tempe, who worked with Udell on earlier dog research but not on this project. …

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