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Front Psychol. 2014 Nov 18;5:1299. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2014.01299. eCollection 2014.

Difference in quantity discrimination in dogs and wolves.

Author information

1
Messerli Research Institute, University of Veterinary Medicine Vienna, Medical University of Vienna, University of Vienna Vienna, Austria ; Wolf Science Center Ernstbrunn, Austria.
2
Wolf Science Center Ernstbrunn, Austria ; Department of Behavioural Biology, University of Münster Münster, Germany.
3
Wolf Science Center Ernstbrunn, Austria.

Abstract

Certain aspects of social life, such as engaging in intergroup conflicts, as well as challenges posed by the physical environment, may facilitate the evolution of quantity discrimination. In lack of excessive comparative data, one can only hypothesize about its evolutionary origins, but human-raised wolves performed well when they had to choose the larger of two sets of 1-4 food items that had been sequentially placed into two opaque cans. Since in such paradigms, the animals never see the entire content of either can, their decisions are thought to rely on mental representation of the two quantities rather than on some perceptual factors such as the overall volume or surface area of the two amounts. By equaling the time that it takes to enter each quantity into the cans or the number of items entered, one can further rule out the possibility that animals simply choose based on the amount of time needed to present the two quantities. While the wolves performed well even in such a control condition, dogs failed to choose the larger one of two invisible quantities in another study using a similar paradigm. Because this disparity could be explained by procedural differences, in the current study, we set out to test dogs that were raised and kept identically as the previously tested wolves using the same set-up and procedure. Our results confirm the former finding that dogs, in comparison to wolves, have inferior skills to represent quantities mentally. This seems to be in line with Frank's (1980) hypothesis suggesting that domestication altered the information processing of dogs. However, as discussed, also alternative explanations may exist.

KEYWORDS:

domestic dogs; domestication; mental representation; quantity discrimination; wolf

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