I’m always fascinated by behavioural experiments focused on teamwork. I also love dogs, so I was really curious about a recent experiment at the University of Vienna which pitted dogs against wolves in teamwork.
In the experiment, pairs of wolves and pairs of dogs were given a task that required them to pull on two ropes simultaneously. If the task is performed correctly, they get a food reward.
I know what some of you dog people are thinking – the dogs are more used to being around people so they'll learn and perform better. Well, just to avoid that outcome, the dog pairs and wolf pairs were raised from puppies in exactly the same way with minimal human interaction.
With no training, five of seven wolf pairs succeeded in mastering the task at least once. Only one of eight dog pairs did.
With individual training intended to show the animals that if both ropes were held in the mouth, they could get the treat, three of four wolf pairs succeeded multiple times. Two of six dog pairs succeeded — once.
The results show that wolves are better at learning and executing cooperative tasks.
Even though they fight over food, snapping and snarling, the wolves performed much better at the teamwork task than the dogs. That's perhaps because their very survival depends on it.
Dogs on the other hand rarely fight over food. They are very docile and agreeable on the whole once the hierarchy is established. The dominant dog always eats its fill first.
So wolves fight, but they also succeed.
It reminds me somewhat of the more successful human teams that I see. They may often fight over ideas and approaches, but it doesn't mean they are broken or dysfunctional because when it really matters, they band together to get the job done
Mind you, I’d still be more comfortable with a dog in my house than a wolf.