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), 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 and free-ranging dogs as well as pet dogs living in Vienna (Clever Dog Lab).
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 we now have an ongoing project comparing wolves and dogs (FWF P33928-B in collaboration with Priv. Doz. Dr. Sabine Tebbich from the University of Vienna).
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. For work at the other facilities please contact Sarah Marshall.
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 in Austria either at the Wolf Science Center (WSC) or at the Clever Dog Lab, or at our field-sites working with free-ranging dogs in Morocco and wild wolves in Italy. For more information click below.
Junior scientists/Post docs
Martina Lazzaroni (Free-ranging dog project- DOC fellowship, Austrian Academy of Sciences)
Gwen Wirobski (Role of OT in domestication, WWTF CS15-018)
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)
María Teresa (Mayte) Martínez Navarrete (Animals’ understanding of the partner’s role in cooperation, FWF)
Daniel Rivas Blanco (Physical Cognition FWF P33928-B)
Dario Staric (Inferences and physical cognition in dogs and wolves)
Juliana Werneck Wallner Mendes
Diploma- and MSc students (current)
Zsófia Virányi (Vetmeduni)
Kurt Kotrschal (Vienna University)
Ludwig Huber (Vetmeduni)
Claus Lamm (Vienna University)
Simon Townsend (University of Warwick)
Matthias Laska (University of Linköping )
Malgorzata Pilot (University of Lincoln)
Sarah Brosnan (Georgia State University)
Tobias Deschner (Max-Planck-Institut für evolutionäre Anthropologie)
Anna Kukekova (University of Illinois)
Rupert Palme (Vetmeduni)