Monday, July 25, 2016

Lots of Dominance in Wolves, But More in Dogs


In the real world, there are real wolves and real wolf experts, same as there are real packs of dogs and real dog experts.

Wolf experts will tell you that dominance shapes every aspect of wolf life, from mating to communication, and from vocalization to who squats to pee.

Data and video tape clips of the largest wolf pack in the world, shows that battles over dominance are among the leading natural causes of wolf death in the wild.

But are wolves more centered on dominance than dogs?

Not according to the most recent study comparing the two in perfect parallel.

As Virginia Morell notes in a recent article in Science magazine, wolves seem to be more programmed to cooperate than dogs. While wolves cooperate, dogs submit to more dominant dogs.

For dog lovers, comparative psychologists Friederike Range and Zsófia Virányi have an unsettling conclusion. Many researchers think that as humans domesticated wolves, they selected for a cooperative nature, resulting in animals keen to pitch in on tasks with humans. But when the two scientists at the Messerli Research Institute at the University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna studied lab-raised dog and wolf packs, they found that wolves were the tolerant, cooperative ones. The dogs, in contrast, formed strict, linear dominance hierarchies that demand obedience from subordinates, Range explained last week at the Animal Behavior Society meeting at Princeton University. As wolves became dogs, she thinks, they were bred for the ability to follow orders and to be dependent on human masters.

Range and Virányi developed their new portrayal of dogs and wolves by giving a series of tests to socialized packs of mixed-breed dogs and wolves, four packs of each species, containing anywhere from two to six animals each. The scientists raised all the animals from about 10 days old at the Wolf Science Center in Game Park Ernstbrunn, Austria, living with them 24 hours a day until they were introduced to pack life, so that they were accustomed to humans.

Range and her colleagues tested the dogs’ and wolves’ tolerance for their fellow pack members with a mealtime challenge. The researchers paired a high-ranking dog with a low-ranking pack buddy and set out a bowl of food, then gave the same challenge to a pair of wolves. In every matchup, “the higher ranking dog monopolized the food,” Range told the meeting. “But in the wolf tests, both high- and low-ranking animals had access” and were able to chow down at the same time. At times, the more dominant wolves were “mildly aggressive toward their subordinates, but a lower ranking dog won’t even try” when paired with a top dog, Range said. “They don’t dare to challenge.”

Range and Virányi suspect that the relationship between dogs and humans is hierarchical, with humans as top dogs, rather than cooperative, as in wolf packs. The notion of “dog-human cooperation” needs to be reconsidered, Range said, as well as “the hypotheses that domestication enhanced dogs’ cooperative abilities.” Instead, our ancestors bred dogs for obedience and dependency. “It’s not about having a common goal,” Range said. “It’s about being with us, but without conflict. We tell them something, and they obey.”

Whoops! 

It seems the hand of man has not been selecting for "cooperation," as the theorists have so-oft opined, but for submission.

This will, no doubt, be very unsettling for some, and will result in a new flurry of explanation and revisionist back-peddling. This is to be expected. It's rare for folks to toss out their frame even when presented with new facts, and much more common to toss out the facts, even if they come from the house organ of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

The good news, however, is that what people "believe" hardly matters.

As Neil DeGrasse Tyson has noted, what's great about science is that it's true whether you "believe" in it or not!  "Perspective" and "philosophy" do not enter the picture when it comes to reality.

And, as always, dogs are the real experts.

6 comments:

jeffrey thurston said...


I like the premises in this post: "The good thing about science etc." and the idea of dominance in canines. I do find it amusing however that the "science" proving this concept is cognitive psychology- the even softer squishier cousin of Psychology the Soft. Psychology the word has its etymological roots in "study of the soul"- a ridiculous endeavor for science- and cognitive psychology is thus the study of animal's souls- even sillier. I googled the Messerli Institute and the work of these two women and the impression I got was of a very fun- playtime with animals- better generate some data- place for earnest young animal lovers. The question of this study is a red herring- are there really many people who think dogs were domesticated by cooperation? Read the results: "Range and Virányi suspect that the relationship between dogs and humans is hierarchical, with humans as top dogs..." and "...Instead, our ancestors bred dogs for obedience and dependency..."! MIRABILE DICTU! Who'd've known? (maybe hundreds of generations of tribal people, huntsmen, soldiers and millions of our ancestors who used working dogs!) Again psychologists obscure the obvious. Anyway- I think dominance is controversial because our PC, soft and spoiled society doesn't like the idea that nature is harsh, cruel and merciless. There has to be a softer easier vision-right? Nature is really more of collective action in a good direction- right? Finally- I am about 99% sure that any random group of cognitive psychologist "scientists" here at liberal Berkeley could observe doggies and wolfies at their food bowls and PROVE that cooperation is what's being observed and generate reams of data to prove it!

jeffrey thurston said...

I meant COMPARATIVE psychology (not cognitive) is the study of animal's souls in my previous missive- sorry about that. Not that- Abnormal psychology
Activity theory
Analytical psychology
Anomalistic psychology
Applied Behavior Analysis
Applied psychology
Asian Psychology
Behaviorism
Behavioral medicine
Biological psychology
Biopsychology
Cognitive neuropsychology
Cognitive neuroscience
Cognitive psychology
Community psychology
Comparative psychology
Clinical behavior analysis
Clinical psychology
Consumer psychology
Counseling psychology
Criminal psychology
Critical psychology
Cross-cultural psychology
Cultural neuroscience
Cultural psychology
Developmental psychology
Discursive psychology
Distributed cognition
Ecological psychology
Economic psychology
Educational psychology
Engineering psychology
Environmental psychology
Evolutionary psychology
Experimental psychology
Experimental analysis of behavior
Forensic psychology
Health psychology
Humanistic psychology
Imaginal psychology
Individual differences psychology
Industrial and organizational psychology
International psychology
Investigative psychology
Legal psychology
Mathematical psychology
Medical psychology
Military psychology
Music psychology
Neuropsychology
Occupational health psychology
Peace psychology
Performance psychology
Personality psychology
Philippine Psychology
Physiological psychology
Police psychology
Political psychology
Popular psychology, self-help, and alternative therapy
Positive psychology
Pre- and perinatal psychology
Problem solving
Psychoanalysis
Psychohistory
Psycholinguistics
Psychology and law
Psychology of art
Psychology of religion
Psychometrics
Psychonomics
Psycho-oncology
Psychopathology
Psychophysics
Psychophysiology
Psychotherapy
Quantitative psychology
School psychology
Sensation and perception
Situated cognition
Social psychology
Social neuroscience
Sport psychology
Systems psychology
Theoretical psychology
Traffic psychology and finally
Transpersonal psychology aren't all just BULLSHIT!

jeffrey thurston said...

Back on topic- in my experience with 3 different pairs of dogs owned during various phases of my life dominance behavior is always present. My current two maniacs established their hierarchy the first day they were together and the little piebald is subservient. I can see with my eyes this is a fact- it would take a lot of self-delusion or "confirmation bias" to deny it. The adults in our household definitely dominate the dogs-it's a bit iffy with the 11 year old boy- he gets growled at sometimes- the top dog views him as more equal. Simple and observable- common knowledge- right?

Jennifer said...

From an older woman who keeps a small, matrilinearly descended pack of Labradors, I think there's a lot of b.s. written about dominance. When Bonza, age 5, rolls her yearling pup, Patty, is that dominance? I tend to think they are playing, and that's the normal pattern of play between adults and pups. You can call it dominance, but the hierarchy is very weak and I can't imagine it escalating to the point where either dog gets hurt.
My girls do cooperate. They come into milk and feed one another's pups . . . they work opposite ends of a burrow when digging gophers. They never even look at one another's food, and the puppies are inclined to snatch toys off the adults, probably because the adults don't care so much about toys.

Are all dogs like mine? Having known a lot of breeders I would say no, there's huge variation in how groups of dogs interact.

Are all wolves alike? I seriously doubt it. Wolves have huge geographical distribution and occupy widely varied niche spaces. Pack sizes and pack stability vary greatly . . . so you would expect different forms of social organization. Cooperation matters a lot more when you're chasing caribou than when you're chasing rabbits. Breeding behavior can be expected to vary depending on mortality (eg. Jiang Rong's description of wolves on the Mongolian steppes, while not science-based, strongly contradicts the notion that only alpha females breed).

Btw., are you excluding Mech from the category of 'real wolf experts?
After 13 summers observing wolves on Ellesmere Island, he concludes "Even the much-touted wolf dominance hierarchy is primarily a natural reflection of the age, sex, and reproductive structure of the group, with the breeding male dominating all others posturally and the breeding female garnering food from the male while she is tending young pups." http://www.mnforsustain.org/wolf_mech_dominance_alpha_status.htm

jeffrey thurston said...

Jennifer- You choose to see what you like. Dominance is not snarling Jack London 'The Call of the Wild' tooth and claw intraspecies fighting (although it can be at times) rather it is the way these social animals maintain peace and harmony. You may choose not to see it in your dogs but in general canines use it as their social language. Hate to do this but I'll quote a PSYCHOLOGIST from the 2/15/2012 edition of 'Psychology Today': "Social dominance is not a myth" (referring to dogs and wolves) by Marc Bekoff. And to quote L. David Mech recently after he got sick of being constantly misrepresented: "I do NOT in any way reject the notion of dominance..."

jdlvtrn said...

There exists a politics of power, rank, preference in all group living species. There should not be any question if you've got one good eye and half a brain. I've owned sled dogs (malamutes, an inuit X, boarded Siberians), and they all nave individual and breed related styles of expressing it, just like humans. Dolphins are also reported to have some power plays in their lives. A video on working with a team of carriage horses discusses personality and rank as well as gait in setting up the configuration. Some more cooperative dog breeds may be more subtle in the expression, or be more easily diffused. There is an old saying that even the grizzly bear respects the wolverine. Two mostly solo operators. Where there is no selection for reducing dominance, and advantage in its display, why would it be any other way? Why does this provoke people so?