Domestication Lab (Range Lab)

General Research

Our research focuses on understanding the effects of domestication on animals’ social behaviour, personality, physical and social cognition. Our model species are wolves and dogs. To investigate the effects of domestication without the confounding factor of different experiences, we compare wolves and dogs living at the Wolf Science Center (WSC) 1, where animals live in conspecific packs and are highly socialized to humans. Additionally, to understand how the socio-ecology of these species might affect their behaviour, and to evaluate the role of experience on social and physical cognition, we also conduct studies with both wild wolves 2 and free-ranging dogs 3 as well as pet dogs living in Vienna (Clever Dog Lab 4). 

Research Topics

Social cognition and Cooperation

  • Cooperation and tolerance: Within the framework of several funded projects (ERC CanCoop 311870, FWF P21244-B17, WWTF project CS11-026 to Zs. Virányi), in the last 8 years we have conducted numerous tests at the WSC, comparing wolves’ and dogs’ tolerance and cooperative inclinations both with conspecifics and humans. In contrast to the major domestication hypotheses, we have found that dogs’ cooperative abilities have not been enhanced during domestication but that more subtle differences exist between wolves and dogs that need further investigation.
  • Social relationships and the underlying physiology: Based on observational data (CanCoop 311870, FWF P21244-B17) as well as experiments (FWF-OTKA to Zs. Virányi), we have been studying the social relationships of wolves and dogs both with conspecifics and human partners over the last years. In 2016 we received funding from the WWTF (CS15-018) to explore the role of oxytocin (OT) in dog domestication. We have been conducting a number of studies both at the WSC and at the CDL, investigating whether the OT system provides the mechanism underlying the establishment and maintenance of social bonds both with conspecifics and with humans.
  • Communication and conflict management:  Ongoing research at the WSC investigates conspecific social behaviour and communication including visual communication (WWTF project CS11-026 to Zs. Viranyi), acoustic communication (in collaboration with Simon Townsend, University of Warwick), and olfactory communication (in collaboration with Matthias Laska, Linköping University). In 2014 we extended this work to include two larger wolf packs - one pack of Arctic wolves (at Olomouc Zoo, Czech Republic) and another pack of European wolves (at Tambach Wildpark in Germany). Within the framework of a Lisa Meitner- FWF scholarship to Simona Cafazzo (M1400-B19), we also started investigating the different conflict management styles of wolves and dogs.

Personality: Within the framework of the ERC project (CanCoop 311870), we have also started investigating aspects of wolves’ and dogs’ personality both in terms of inhibition and in relation to how they approach problems linked to the environment (e.g. different aspects linked to independent problem solving, such as neophobia, persistence, behavioural flexibility etc.).

Physical cognition: It has also been suggested that during domestication, dogs might have lost some physical cognition skills due to the buffering effect of humans. A project was conducted at the CDL (FWF- 21418 in collaboration with Ludwig Huber) to investigate the understanding of specific physical properties in pet dogs and future studies will compare wolves and dogs.

Team

Senior scientists
Friederike Range 5
Sarah Marshall-Pescini 6

Junior scientists
Rachel Dale 7
Giulia Cimarelli 8

Technical and Animal Care Assistants
Aleksander Orlic (Team Assistance)
Alina Gaugg (CDL, Animal Trainer)
Marianne Heberlein (WSC, Animal Trainer)
Katharina Kriegler (WSC, Animal Trainer)
Christina Mayer (WSC, Animal Trainer)
Lina Oberliessen (WSC, Animal Trainer)
Cindy Voigt (WSC, Animal Trainer)
Laura Bischof (WSC, Trainee)
Andrea Rieger (WSC, Animal Caretaker)

PhD Students
Akshay Rao (The correlates of problem solving in wolves and dogs, ERC 311870)
Martina Lazzaroni (Free-ranging dog project- DOC fellowship, Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Gwen Wirobski (Role of OT in domestication, WWTF
CS15-018)
Jim McGetrick (Reciprocity in dogs, DOC fellowship, Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Hoi-Lam Jim (The role of eavesdropping in cooperation in wolves and dogs,
Doctoral College: Cognition and Communication)
Hillary Jean-Joseph
(The role of physiology in how wolves and dogs see their world, Doctoral College: Cognition and Communication, co-supervised with Kurt Kotrschal)

Diploma and MSc Students (current)

At the CDL:
Sabrina Ausserwöger
Ingrid Leidinger
Maria Holtsch
Anna Juffinger

At the WSC
Alexandra Kassis
Laura Candelotto
Alexander Dharmarajah
Shannon Stubbs

Collaborators
Zsófia Virányi  9(University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna)
Kurt Kotrschal (University of Vienna)
Ludwig Huber 10 (University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna)
Claus Lamm 11 (University of Vienna)
Simon Townsend 12 (University of Warwick)
Matthias Laska 13 (Linköping University)
Malgorzata Pilot 14 (University of Lincoln)
Sarah Brosnan 15 (
Georgia State University)
Tobias Deschner 16 (Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology)
Anna Kukekova 17 (University of Illinois)
Rupert Palme  18(University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna)

Student Opportunities

We are often looking for motivated students with interest in animal cognition and behaviour. We offer the possibility of Master’s projects and internships with the possibility of working either at the Wolf Science Center (WSC), Clever Dog Lab, or at our field-site in Morocco where we observe free-ranging dogs. For work at the WSC please consult this page 19. For work at the other facilities please contactSarah Marshall.