Dogs and wolves compared: did domestication make dogs less sharp-witted?

Domestication of the wolf led to the evolution of the dog, man’s best friend that integrated itself perfectly in to family life. But, how did the nature of canid change by being influenced by man in comparison to its wild relative? A recent study published in the Royal Society journal Biology Letters seems to answer this complex question in part. 

The experiment testing the intelligence of wolf and dog 

Monique Udell, scholar of Oregon University, focused on the wit of the quadrupeds creating a singular test for 10 domestic dogs, 10 wolves and 10 dogs from an animal shelter. The thirty specimens had to sharpen their wits to access a food reward: in order to pass the test, a box had to be opened to get the treat inside. The wolves had the most remarkable result – 8 out of 10 implemented the required solution and opened the box – this success was in complete contrast to the mediocre performances of the dogs: only 1 out of the 20 dogs tested completed the task, with most seeking help, confirmation and a command from the owner.

Dog and wolf: intelligent in a different way

This unique study provides further evidence of the influence the human pack leader has over the domestic dog, which has a developed a strong social intelligence in order to interact successfully with its owner. The differences with the wolf in terms of wit and ability to solve problems are substantial: the predator tends to rely only on itself, just like it has for thousands of years in nature, both in hunting and in the management of the dynamics of the pack.

However, to conclude that the domestic dog is ‘less intelligent’ than its wild ‘cousin’ due to the long process of domestication seems simplistic and superficial. According to the scholar and author of this experiment, not only should this matter be further investigated, but every dog, the same as any wolf, represents a separate case in terms of attitudes and responsiveness.