Dogs and wolves are so similar genetically that it is difficult for biologists to understand why wolves remain fiercely wild while dogs are happy to become humans’ best friends, » points out evolutionary biology researcher Kathryn Lord from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
In a study published in the journal Ethology, she suggests that part of the explanation is linked to early sensory experiences and the critical period of socialisation in infants.
She conducted the study with 7 wolves from 3 litters and 43 dogs, including 33 border collies and German shepherds raised by their mothers and 10 German shepherds in contact with humans shortly after birth.
Her observations confirm that wolves and dogs develop their senses at the same time: the sense of smell at the age of 2 weeks, hearing at 4 weeks and vision at 6 weeks on average. But they enter the socialisation period at different ages.
« When the socialisation window begins, » explains the researcher, « wolf pups and dogs start to walk and explore without fear and will become familiar with the living creatures they come into contact with« . Domestic dogs can be introduced to humans, horses and cats at this stage and be comfortable with them thereafter. But as the socialisation period progresses, fears increase. When it is over, new sights, sounds and smells elicit a fear response.
While this period begins at 4 weeks in dogs, it starts at 2 weeks in wolves. « The experience of the world in these two sub-species is therefore very different, and is likely to lead to different developmental pathways in terms of the ability to form bonds with other species« , according to the researcher.
Wolf pups are still blind and deaf when they start to walk, with only their sense of smell to explore. When they begin to hear for the first time, they are initially frightened by new noises. The same applies to visual stimuli. They experience shocks that dogs who are just starting to explore do not, having already developed their three senses by the time they begin to explore.
To introduce a dog to a human or a horse, you only need 90 minutes between the ages of 4 and 8 weeks, » explains the researcher. After that, it will have no fear of them. With a wolf pup, you need at least 24 hours of contact before the age of 3 weeks, and the same attachment and absence of fear will not be achieved.
« At the genetic level, the difference may not be in the genes as such, but rather in the genes themselves being activated at different times, » explains the researcher.
Artificial intelligence translation of an original text by PsychoMédia
Click here to read the French version
Thanks to our friends at Wild Focus Asbl for bringing this article to our attention.
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