A wolfdog point of view on the impossible task paradigm

Abstract

To elucidate the role of domestication, we used the impossible task paradigm to test Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs with a known proportion of ‘wolfblood’ in their DNA and, as a control group for our subjects, we used German shepherd dogs. We hypothesized that the difference between wolves and domestic dogs is based on genetics and modified by obedience; if so, the looking back performance of the subject should be linked to its proportion of wolf-genes. To prove that, we observed 73 Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs, and 27 German shepherd dogs, and analysed their human-directed gazing behaviour during our test. Our apparatus consisted of a glass container placed upside down over a small amount of food. The test proceeded with three solvable trials, in which the subject could obtain the food by manipulating the container, followed by an unsolvable one in which the container was fixed onto the board. Our results suggest that there is no significant correlation between the probability of looking back in Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs and their proportion of ‘wolf blood’. However, the probability of looking back was higher in German Shepherd dogs than in Czechoslovakian Wolfdogs (odds ratio = 9.1). German Shepherd dogs showed not only a higher frequency of looking back, but also the duration of their looks was longer.

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Acknowledgements

The study was supported by the Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic (MZE-RO0718). We would like to thank the dog owners because without their support this work would not be possible. A special thanks goes to Prof. Emanuela Prato-Previde for her great help and involvement in this paper. We also thank Sonia Lenardon and Jan Palatý for their editing and suggestions.

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Correspondence to Andrea Sommese.

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The authors declare that the research was conducted in the absence of any commercial or financial relationships that could be construed as a potential conflict of interest.

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All procedures involving animals were approved with the recommendations in the Guide for the Care and Use of Animals of the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. The protocol was approved by the Czech Central Committee for Protection of Animals (Permit number: MŠMT 26663/2010-30, 7/2010). The legal requirements of the Czech Republic must be approved by the Central Commission for Animal Welfare (Ministry of Agriculture of the Czech Republic) and by the Commission for Animal Welfare of the Czech University of Life Sciences Prague. The experiment did not require any specific arrangement, because it was based on a contactless observation of the dogs carried by their owners.

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Sommese, A., Nováková, K., Šebková, N.F. et al. A wolfdog point of view on the impossible task paradigm. Anim Cogn 22, 1073–1083 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10071-019-01298-7

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Keywords

  • Czechoslovakian wolfdogs
  • German shepherd dogs
  • Impossible task
  • Looking back
  • Domestication