The Daily Telegraph

Wolves may have been humans’ first best friend, scientists claim


WOLVES can warm to people, according to scientists who say their research sheds light on how dogs became man’s best friend.

Scientists had believed dogs were the first of the canine family to show affection for people in a bond forged over millennia of domesticat­ion, cohabitati­on and working together.

However, their study suggests that a capacity for affectiona­te interactio­n with humans may have existed in their ancestors.

Researcher­s at Stockholm University used 10 wolves and 12 dogs to determine how attached the animals were to people by monitoring how they responded when put in a room with a stranger and or familiar person – a dog owner or the person who had hand-reared the wolves.

The wolves and the dogs were, similarly, calmed by – and found to be more affectiona­te towards – people who were familiar to them.

The findings, published in the journal Ecology and Evolution, represent the first example of wolves being proven to be able to differenti­ate between people – and act accordingl­y.

Dr Christina Hansen Wheat, the study’s author, said the ability of wolves to show affection may have been exploited by humans who sought to tame them 15,000 years ago.

“It was clear that the wolves, like the dogs, preferred the familiar person over the stranger,” Dr Hansen Wheat said.

“But what was perhaps even more interestin­g was that while the dogs were not particular­ly affected by the test situation, the wolves were. They were pacing the room.

“However, the remarkable thing was that when the familiar person, a handraiser that had been with the wolves all their lives, re-entered the room the pacing behaviour stopped.

“This indicated that the presence of a familiar person acted as a social stress buffer for the wolves.

“I do not believe that this has ever been shown to be the case for wolves and this also complement­s the existence of a strong bond between the animals and the familiar person.”

Dr Hansen Wheat added that though it may be surprising that wolves are able to connect with humans in this way, it also makes sense.

“Wolves showing human-directed attachment could have had a selective advantage in early stages of dog domesticat­ion,” she explained.

‘The ability of wolves to show affection may have been exploited by humans who sought to tame them’

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