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Boffins put the generosity of dogs and wolves to the test - here's what they got

Wolves are more generous than domestic dogs, say Viennese wolf boffins.
© rooobert_bayer via wolfscience - Instagram

Viennese wolf scientists have held a series of experiments to see which animal is more generous: the wolf or the pet dog. And the results go some way to settling an old argument.

By G. John Cole, 4 May 2019

Just like the ‘nature vs. nurture’ debate, some people believe that domestic dogs are ‘generous’ creatures because they’ve lived with humans for so long, while others believe their generosity comes from their wolf heritage.

Experiments pursed at the Wolf Science Centre in Vienna, Austria, have shown that wild wolves are actually the more community-spirited branch of the family – and that domestication of dogs may actually have made our pets less generous than their ancestors!

There’s an app for that

The Viennese boffins trained nine wolves and six dogs to use a touch screen to give treats to their neighbour waiting in the room next door, alternately an animal from the same pack and a stranger.

As the tests proceeded, the wolves operated the touch screen button a lot more often than the pet dogs, awarding more treats to their neighbours. It’s possible the domestic dogs, being more familiar with touchscreens, were instead trying to navigate to Facebook or Instagram, but the report makes no mention of this.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Kind wolves

While the dogs gave fewer treats in general, those they did give tended to be spread equally between dogs they knew and dogs they didn’t.

The wolves, meanwhile, mostly gave to their brethren, and did so far more in total than the dogs.

The scientists suggest that this may be because co-operation and sharing for the benefit of the pack is good for survival in the wild, whereas domestic dogs are fed on request and don’t have to worry about what their housemates are having for dinner (even if they often take an interest as a spectator).

“The social relationship between the two animals is the best explanation for why some wolves are more prosocial than others,” research leader Rachel Dale told Motherboard.

It’s also possible that the boffins just happened to choose particularly generous wolves to participate in their experiment.

Three wolves, named Aragorn, Wamblee, and Tala, proved to be even kinder than the rest, offering treats even to wolves they had never met.

These wolves would make an excellent addition to any staffroom or shared workplace kitchen.