WASHINGTON, UNITED STATES –
It's a game familiar to most people: you throw an object a short distance and wait while your happy canine companion jumps in to intercept and return the missile, encouraged by words of praise or a pat on the head.
Undoubtedly, these scenes have unfolded over millennia, symbolizing the unshakable bond of friendship between humanity and our "best friends" since dogs were domesticated from their wolf ancestors at least 15,000 years ago.
But a new study in the journal iScience shows that some wolf cubs also know how to play, which puts an end to the hypothesis that the ability to interpret subtle human social cues is unique to dogs and arose as a result of selective breeding.
The discovery was made by chance, when researchers in Sweden subjected 13 wolf cubs born in three different litters to a series of behavioral tests.
The team raised wolf and puppy puppies from 10 days of age, in order to answer fundamental questions about how the two species differ and what they have in common.
It wasn't until the third year of the show that lead author Christina Hansen Wheat, a behavioral ecologist at Stockholm University, noticed that some eight-week-old wolf pups paid attention to a stranger throwing a ball and asking them to return. despite no prior training.
"When I saw the first wolf cub get the ball, I got goose bumps – and that's unexpected," she told AFP. "So I had two more doing the same thing, and that was really exciting."
The puppies underwent consecutive video rehearsals, with a total of three out of 13 showing the ability to play the game consistently, all from the third litter.
New puzzle piece
This suggests that, although rare, the variation among wolves in so-called "targeted human behavior" was a key factor in which those were selected by prehistoric people for future breeding.
Hansen Wheat believes the discovery adds an intriguing "new piece to the puzzle" to the history of dog domestication, one of the oldest and most significant interspecies partnerships in human history, but a deeply contested area of study.
Scientists disagree with everything, from when exactly did it happen to where, what conditions led to it and how it happened the first time: did a lost gray wolf approach a human camp to obtain remains? Or did our hunter-gatherer ancestors kidnap a group of young?
In recent years, researchers have focused on the genetic differences between dogs and wolves to try to find out which markers are responsible for different traits.
But Hansen Wheat said his study showed that a large number of wolves would need to be tested to identify the gene or genes responsible for behavioral differences, as a specific trait may be absent in most wolves, but present in some. .