Trainability and cardiac response of wolves and dogs learning to freely use a treadmill — ASN Events

Trainability and cardiac response of wolves and dogs learning to freely use a treadmill (#621)

Kim Kortekaas 1 2 3 , Kurt Kotrschal 1 3 4
  1. Wolf Science Center, Ernstbrunn, Austria
  2. Department of Cognitive Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  3. Department of Behavioural Biology, University of Vienna, Vienna, Austria
  4. Konrad Lorenz Research Station, Grünau, Austria

The goal of this study was to compare trainability and physiological responses of wolves and dogs learning to run freely on a treadmill with the help of a clicker and, thereby, looking at possible domestication effects. This is a first step in using the treadmill as a new paradigm for the study of sociality and cooperation with the long terms goals of (1) measuring potential benefits of joint running, (2) staging experiments on social hunting, and (3) studying domestication effects.

Five different steps were used to train 4 wolves (Canis lupus occidentalis) and 4 mongrel dogs (Canis lupus familiaris): habituation sessions with treadmill switched (1) off and then (2) on (0.5 km/h), target training (target used to support stepping on treadmill) with the treadmill switched (3) off and then (4) on (also increasing speed), and (5) staying on the treadmill at least 5 seconds at a speed of 4.5 km/h. Heart rate (HR) parameters (e.g. average HR and RMSSD; von Borell et al., 2007), measured by the non-invasive Polar RS800CX monitor, were used to assess the stress response of the wolves and equally raised and kept dogs.

Dogs needed longer to master the different training steps than wolves (p = 0.03). This was surprising, because we expected wolves to be more neophobic than dogs and, hence, to have greater difficulties with our task. When comparing dog RMSSD between the training steps a trend was found (p = 0.07) towards higher RMSSD values (relaxation) in the target training phases. Also, dogs were more relaxed than wolves in the target training phase with the treadmill on (p = 0.03). It seems that the human presence specifically relaxes the dogs during target training, although it still took them longer than wolves to master using treadmill. This is in agreement with Frank´s (1980) “information processing hypothesis” which predicts that wolves are better than dogs in cognition-related tasks.

  1. von Borell, E..; Langbein, J.; IP Després, G.; Hansen, S.; Leterrier, C.; Marchant-Forde, J.; Marchant-Forde, R.; Minero, M.; Mohr, E.; Prunier, A.; Valance, D.; Veissier, I. (2007). Heart rate variability as a measure of autonomic regulation of cardiac activity for assessing stress and welfare in farm animals - A review. Physiology and Behavior 92: 293–316
  2. Frank, H. (1980). Evolution of canine information processing under conditions of natural and artificial selection. Z Tierpsychol 5: 389–399