One small study found no evidence that wolves or dogs could build a reputation for humans as “generous” or “selfish” with food after direct or indirect interaction. Hoi-Lam Jim and colleagues at the University of Veterinary Medicine, Vienna, Austria, present the findings in the open-access journal one more On 17 August 2022.
In animals that live in groups, building the reputation of individuals can play an important role in cooperation. Because dogs can cooperate with humans, some researchers have speculated that dogs may build reputations of individual humans by observing humans’ interactions with a third party. However, research on this topic has drawn mixed conclusions. Additionally, if dogs do indeed have this ability, it is unclear whether it developed during domestication or was already present in their wolf ancestors.
To help clarify, Jim and his colleagues at the Wolf Science Center in Austria conducted a study with nine wolves and six dogs. Each test animal observed an interaction between two humans and a dog, in which the “generous” human fed the dog and the “selfish” human withheld the food. Later, the test animal demonstrated whether they had built a reputation for humans by choosing which of the two humans to approach. A second phase tested whether each animal formed a reputation after interacting directly with humans, who either fed them or withheld the meal.
Statistical analysis of the results suggested that neither dogs nor wolves formed the prestige of humans following indirect observation or direct interaction. Thus, the findings do not support the idea that dogs and wolves are capable of building prestige.
However, the wolves paid more attention to the benevolent human when watching the interaction with the dog. Furthermore, two wolves and three dogs showed a preference for the boisterous human after the combined experience of both indirect observation and direct interaction.
The researchers call for more research on the topic, perhaps involving larger numbers of dogs and wolves, and with thoughtful consideration of context. For example, it may be that certain animals are more likely to build reputations in stressful or dangerous situations, although this is not possible to test experimentally for ethical reasons.
The authors state: “Overall, neither dogs nor wolves distinguish between a benevolent or selfish human following indirect or direct experience. However, wolves showed greater attention toward the benevolent individual during the observational phase, and some dogs And wolves preferred the generous person when looking at indirect and direct experiences combined.”
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