A new look at domestication: the role of oxytocin in wolves’ and dogs’ social relationships with conspecific and human partners (WWTF CS15-018).

Sarah Marshall-Pescini 11,2, Friederike Range1,2, Tobias Deschner3

1Comparative Cognition, Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria

2Wolf Science Centre Vienna

3Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology

Oxytocin (OT) has been suggested as a key player in the process of dog domestication. In fact OT has been linked to increased tolerance and reduced fear and aggression, as well as enhanced social cognition and attachment: All elements thought to have changed during domestication.

In this project, combining expertise in comparative psychology and behavioral endocrinology, we will assess the role of OT in dog domestication by investigating its role in dogs’ & wolves’ relationships both with their conspecific and human partners. Importantly, by working at the Wolf Science Centre we will be able to compare wolves and dogs raised and kept in the same manner and that have developed a variety of qualitatively different relationships both with humans and conspecifics.

We will use measures of OT release (in urine and saliva) and also OT administration paradigms (intranasal spray). In the current project we use observational methods to evaluate relationship quality between individuals in the pack.

Having established the relationship quality between individuals similarly we assess the quality between the wolf and dogs’ social bonds with different people and assess whether the quality of the bond is reflected in the OT levels during specific social and cooperation tasks.

Overall the project will assess if OT has played a significant role in the evolution of dogs’ bond to humans.


Funded by

Vienna Science and Technology Fund WWTF