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Gambling Wolves & Dogs

September 5, 2016

Does their divergent evolution affect risk-taking behavior in dogs and wolves?


Rooobert Bayer

A dog and a wolf at the Wolf Science Centre in Austria. (Rooobert Bayer)


Risk-taking canines. I’m Bob Hirshon and this is Science Update.

Humans aren’t the only species that gamble. At the Wolf Science Centre in Austria, both wolves and dogs take part in experiments that test how much they’re willing to wager for the chance to win big.

SARAH MARSHALL-PESCINI (Messerli Research Institute at the Veterinary University of Vienna and the Wolf Science Centre, Austria):

They participate in our tests on a voluntary basis.


Researcher Sarah Marshall-Pescini and her colleagues let the canines choose between a sure bet that yielded a reward of boring dry kibble 100% of the time, or a chance at fresh, juicy meat just 50% of the time. They report in Frontiers in Psychology that the wolves picked the riskier option much more often than the dogs.


Overall, the dogs were a lot more averse to the risk compared to wolves.


She says trading a life of hunting for scavenging from humans thousands of years ago likely made dogs more cautious than their wolf ancestors. I’m Bob Hirshon, for AAAS, the science society.


Story by Susanne Bard