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Social behaviour in dogs and wolves

The overall aim of the project is to understand how social behaviour has evolved when the dog (Canis familiaris) became domesticated. Our study compares the social behaviour of dogs with wolves (Canis lupus) to identify the basic behavioural differences between the two species related to the domestication process.

An important reason for the dog's popularity is its ability to create positive social relationships to man. Today there are approximately 400 million dogs in the world. In comparison there are only 400 000 wolves. Even though the dog is so common and often compared with the wolf when it comes to understanding its social behaviour, this is based more on assumptions than on real knowledge. More systematic studies of the social behaviour of dogs and wolves could both give us more knowledge, in a more general way, how social behaviour could evolve and also increase our knowledge more specifically on the social behaviour that has facilitated dogs’ relation to humans. A first step in such a process of knowledge is to identify what the differences are between dogs and wolves and the ontogeny behind them.


The study started in spring 2014 when we hand raised six dog puppies and five wolf pups at our research station Tovetorp. By hand raising the animals we remove the influence of adult conspecifics, avoiding in this way that the behaviours we see could in fact be explained by, e.g. maternal effects. That the animals grow up under identical conditions is necessary for us to be able to study what really distinguishes dogs and wolves behaviourally.

Domesticated animals in general, are less aggressive, less fearful and retain juvenile characteristics (like playfulness). Some of the questions we try to answer are: (1) if the social structure in a litter is different in dogs and wolves, (2) if agonistic behaviour differs between litters of dogs and wolves, (3) if dogs retain juvenile traits longer than wolves, (4) how the social behaviour towards humans differ between dogs and wolves and (5) if individuals differ in personality that are consistent over time.

Swedish Television (SVT) has made a documentary about the project (in Swedish):


Project members

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Visiting address:
Svante Arrhenius väg 18b

Postal address:
Department of Zoology
Stockholm University
Svante Arrhenius väg 18b
SE-106 91 Stockholm

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