The effect of human socialisation on problem solving abilities of canines: are dogs socially more dependent than wolves?

Term: May 2016 - April 2019

Project collaborators: Martina Lazzaroni, Sarah Marshall-Pescini, Friederike Range

funded by the Austrian Academy of Sciences (Doctoral Fellowship Programme)

There is controversy as regards the role of social experience with humans in dogs’ extraordinary socio-cognitive skills when compared to wolves.  It is yet not clear whether dogs really underperform wolves in physical cognition tasks and whether this ‘deficiency’ may be the result of their social dependence on humans. This project aims to better understand the effects of domestication and social experience on cognitive abilities of dogs adopting a wider comparative approach including populations with differing experience as regards human socialization.

The project will investigate: 1. Whether domestication has affected dogs’ skills both in the socio-cognitive and physical domain, by comparing wolves and dogs raised in the same manner at the WSC (Wolf Science Centre, Ernstbrunn, Austria) 2. To what extent these skills are affected by dogs’ social experience with humans, by comparing groups of dogs with different human experience:  two types of free-ranging dogs with more or less contact with humans (Periphery and Neighbourhood dogs); WSC dogs with daily contact with humans but living in packs, and Pet dogs living constantly with their human partners.

This study will be the first to investigate these topics on such a wide range of dog populations with different levels of human socialization experience, allowing us to substantially advance our understanding of the role of both socialization and domestication in affecting dogs’ cognitive skills.