A comparison of problem-solving and spatial orientation in the wolf ({\it Canis lupus\/}) and dog ({\it Canis familiaris\/})

Date of Completion

January 1989


Biology, General|Psychology, Psychobiology|Biology, Genetics




In the 10-15,000 years since the domestication of the dog from the wolf, the dog has been molded by artificial selection to conform to the needs of humanity, whereas the processes of natural selection have resulted in current wolf behavior. To better understand the behavioral differentiation of the two species, two adult and seven six and one-half month old hand-reared timber wolves were compared with forty adult German Shepherd dogs on their ability to manipulate objects sequentially and to orient in three-dimensional space. The initial task was to pull a single rope suspended from the ceiling. In later tests this problem increased in complexity by the addition of ropes and by changing the spatial configurations. Adult wolf performance was consistently successful across all tests and requirements. Juvenile wolves had little difficulty with one and two rope tests, but showed a decrement in ability on the three rope test. The behavior of the dogs segregated into four profiles: Non-Responders (6 dogs), One Rope Responders (15 dogs), Two Rope Responders (14 dogs), and Three Rope Responders (5 dogs).^ It has often been proposed that one result of artificial selection on the dog is that it retains characteristics that are typical of juvenile wolves into adulthood. This makes the dog in effect a "neotenous wolf". This study was the first to compare juvenile and adult wolves with adult domestic dogs on two putative neotenous behaviors: complex problem solving and spatial orientation. Indeed, on the most difficult task, the three rope test, adult dogs did perform like juvenile wolves. However, many other behavioral characteristics either are the same as, or are accelerated in, the dog when compared to the wolf. Thus I must agree with Zimen (1981) and J. P. Scott (personal communication) that in general the dog cannot be considered a neotenous wolf. ^