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.”
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.