Intrinsic Ball Retrieving in Wolf Puppies Suggests Standing Ancestral Variation for Human-Directed Play Behavior
January 29, 2020
Study in the journal iScience shows that some wolf puppies know how to play fetch, upending the long-held hypothesis that the ability to interpret subtle human social cues is unique to dogs and arose as a result of selective breeding.
Domestication dramatically alters phenotypes across animal species. Standing variation among ancestral populations often drives phenotypic change during domestication, but some changes are caused by novel mutations. In dogs (Canis familiaris) specifically, it has been suggested that the ability to interpret social-communicative behavior expressed by humans originated post-domestication and this behavior is thus not expected to occur in wolves (Canis lupus). Here we report the observation of three 8-week-old wolf puppies spontaneously responding to social-communicative behaviors from an unfamiliar person by retrieving a ball. This behavioral expression in wolves has significant implications for our understanding and expectations of the genetic foundations of dog behavior. Importantly, our observations indicate that behavioral responses to human social-communicative cues are not unique to dogs. This suggests that, although probably rare, standing variation in the expression of human-directed behavior in ancestral populations could have been an important target or early selective pressures exerted during dog domestication.
Author(s): Christina Hansen Wheat and Hans Temrin