Why were dogs domesticated so early? How was it done? A recent paper (citation below) looks at how much of dog behaviour might have been already in the wolf with no effort needed to produce it in the dog. All that may have been needed was to have the wolf lose its fear of man and accept man as a partner.
The researchers, Range and Viranyi, looked at the levels of tolerance and attentiveness in wolves and dogs that were living in the same sort of group and enclosure with the same interaction with humans during their whole lives. In other words they compared like with like rather than pets with wild animals. They were looking at cooperation which has its foundation in two traits. Social tolerance, the ease with which animals live and ‘work’ together, is “usually measured in the context of feeding, which is not accompanied with aggression or, if aggression occurs, it is bidirectional and ritualized.” Tolerance points to particular social emotions and communication. Social attentiveness, the amount of monitoring of companions, is important in cooperation, to know a partner’s behavior and intentions by close observation. Following another’s gaze is an indication of attentiveness. They put forward a hypothesis: “Based on findings that in intraspecific contexts wolves are at least as socially attentive and tolerant as dogs, the Canine Cooperation Hypothesis postulates that dog-human cooperation evolved on the basis of wolf-wolf cooperation. In contrast to many domestication hypotheses, it suggests that dogs did not need to be selected for a general increase in their social attentiveness and tolerance. ”
There was one experiment in particular that I found very interesting. “… we investigated gaze following into distant space and around barriers in wolves. This ability to coordinate with others’ head orientation to look in the same direction is considered a key step toward an understanding of others mental states like attention and intention and thus, is potentially also very important for being able to successfully cooperate. However, while gaze following into distant space could be simply a socially facilitated orientation response (i.e., a predisposition to look where others are looking) , gaze following around barriers, where individuals need to reposition themselves to look behind the obstacle and assess the visual persepctive of the cue-giver different from their own, has been suggested to require a mental representation of the looker’s visual perspective or learning how visual barriers impair perceptions. Accordingly, this latter ability to track another’s gaze around obstacles seems to be cognitively more advanced, and has been suggested to occur especially in species with high levels of cooperative and competitive interactions. Our results showed that wolves followed human gaze as readily as conspecific gaze implying their high social attention and their readiness to accept humans as social partners who might provide important information. ” I have thought that some dogs such as seeing-eye dogs had the ability to envisage the size, shape and mobility of their charges as if they could imagine ‘walking in their shoes”. This sort of ‘dog owners’ belief has been criticized heavily but has not changed the opinion of many owners. It is nice to see some experimental evidence of that type of ability in canines.
Here is the abstract : “At present, beyond the fact that dogs can be easier socialized with humans than wolves, we know little about the motivational and cognitive effects of domestication. Despite this, it has been suggested that during domestication dogs have become socially more tolerant and attentive than wolves. These two characteristics are crucial for cooperation, and it has been argued that these changes allowed dogs to successfully live and work with humans. However, these domestication hypotheses have been put forward mainly based on dog-wolf differences reported in regard to their interactions with humans. Thus, it is possible that these differences reflect only an improved capability of dogs to accept humans as social partners instead of an increase of their general tolerance, attentiveness and cooperativeness. At the Wolf Science Center, in order to detangle these two explanations, we raise and keep dogs and wolves similarly socializing them with conspecifics and humans and then test them in interactions not just with humans but also conspecifics. When investigating attentiveness toward human and conspecific partners using different paradigms, we found that the wolves were at least as attentive as the dogs to their social partners and their actions. Based on these findings and the social ecology of wolves, we propose the Canine Cooperation Hypothesis suggesting that wolves are characterized with high social attentiveness and tolerance and are highly cooperative. This is in contrast with the implications of most domestication hypotheses about wolves. We argue, however, that these characteristics of wolves likely provided a good basis for the evolution of dog-human cooperation. ”
Range, F., & VirÃ¡nyi, Z. (2015). Tracking the evolutionary origins of dog-human cooperation: the â€œCanine Cooperation Hypothesisâ€ Frontiers in Psychology, 5 DOI: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01582