Loss of Wolflike Behaviors Correlates with a Dog’s Appearance
In this 1997 study, authors Goodwin, Bradshaw, and Wickens made a fascinating discovery. When they looked for 16 gray wolf social behaviors in ten different breeds of dogs, they found that the number of the behaviors a dog retained correlated with how wolflike it was physically.
The wolf behaviors were separated into two categories: threats and submissive. They included things such as aggressive gape, inhibited bite, and muzzle lick. On one end of the spectrum, Siberian huskies showed 15 out of 16 of the behaviors. On the other, Cavalier King Charles spaniels only showed two.
A number of interesting conclusions can be drawn from this study. First, the “less-wolflike” dogs had more physical characteristics of juvenile wolves, such as a rounded skull, floppy ears, small size, etc. The authors, after examining the age at which each of these social behaviors appear in the wolf, found that most of the behaviors the smaller dogs had lost were behaviors that occurred later in the wolf’s development. This suggest that as physical development slows, so does behavioral development.
There were a couple of outliers: retrievers had more wolf behaviors than expected, while the relatively wolfish German shepherd had fewer. The authors believe that this is because the retrievers were bred for hunting, causing them to need to retain more wolf behaviors, while the German shepherd was intentionally bred to look more like wolves from a less wolflike breed.
So what does it all mean? In the end, the loss of these social behaviors may be due to the fact that dogs no longer have to compete with other dogs for resources thanks to human intervention. This makes even more sense when you consider the fact that the more lapdog-ish dogs are the ones who have lost more behaviors. Overall it seems that the submissive behaviors were the most likely to disappear first. Since these displays are used to inhibit and pacify aggression in others, it seems like dogs have much less to fear from their conspecifics than wolves do.
Full text of the paper:
Photo credit: Emily Killian Molina