Wolves more prosocial than pack dogs: Study

In a new scientific study wolves behaved more prosocially toward their fellow pack members than did pack dogs.

Prosocial behaviors—actions intended to benefit others—are important for cooperation. Some scientists hypothesize that has selected for cooperative tendencies, suggesting that dogs should be more prosocial than their closest living relatives: wolves.

Competing hypotheses hold that prosocial behaviors observed in pet dogs arose from ancestral traits, and since wolves rely heavily on cooperation, they should be more prosocial than dogs.

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Study overview

To explore these competing hypotheses, researchers compared prosocial tendencies between nine wolves and six dogs raised and living in packs at the Wolf Science Center. The researchers developed a touchscreen-based task that allowed individual animals to provide food to others.  They trained each animal to use its nose to press a “giving” symbol on a touchscreen in order to deliver to an adjacent enclosure, where another animal of the same species may or may not be present.


Over multiple trials, the wolves opted to deliver significantly more food to the adjacent enclosure when it held a member of their own pack than when the same pack member was nearby but in a different enclosure.

In contrast, the dogs delivered no more food to the adjacent enclosure when it was occupied by a pack member than when the pack member was merely nearby.


These findings suggest that wolves are more prosocial than dogs raised in similar pack conditions.

“This study shows that domestication did not necessarily make more prosocial. Rather, it seems that tolerance and generosity towards group members help to produce high levels of cooperation, as seen in .”

-Rachel Dale, Wolf Science Center in Vienna, Austria and study author



Journal Reference:  Dale R, Palma-Jacinto S, Marshall-Pescini S, Range F (2019) Wolves, but not dogs, are prosocial in a touch screen task. PLoS ONE 14(5): e0215444. doi.org/10.1371/journal.pone.0215444