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Wolves and dogs: mainstream “theory of mind” vs facts

Posted on May 30, 2013 by James Kohl.

Who’s (Socially) Smarter: The Dog or the Wolf? on 28 May 2013, 5:40 PM

Excerpt: “The mainstream theory is that wolves became dogs when they started treating humans as their pack members,” Range says. Rather than gaining new cognitive abilities that wolves never had, such as so-called “theory of mind” required to learn complex tasks by watching others perform, dogs may have undergone an evolutionary tradeoff: losing some of the ability to learn from their own kind, but gaining the ability to learn from humans.

My comment: Differences in their diet and in their metabolism of starch (Axelsson et al., 2013) contribute to differences in the socialization dogs and wolves. These differences exemplify nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled adaptive evolution. The differences in socialization of these subspecies can be attributed to explorations involving only olfactory/pheromonal input in 2 week-old wolf pups. For comparison, visual and tactile input add details of the sensory environment by the time dog exploration begins approximately 2 weeks later. Thus, a dog’s social perspective develops  in the context of  multisensory input (Lord, 2013). A developmental delay of approximately 2 weeks allows multisensory input and additional details in dogs to complement what is learned by wolves from only olfactory/pheromonal input.

Developmental differences manifested in differences in behavior exemplify the epigenetic effects of olfactory/pheromonal input on nutrient-dependent pheromone-controlled brain development during a critical period of interaction with the social environment. The differences in behavior extend across a life-time of more aggressive behavior in wolves.

It seems likely that wolves have not been domesticated because the impact of their diet (i.e., less digested starch) on their genetic predispositions causes wolf pups to begin exploration of their postnatal environment using only their sense of smell. The wolf pups are then somewhat ‘shocked’ in the context of social associations when these associations begin to include other sensory input that alters their behavior.

Wolf pups may be less trusting of other large mammals that  smell like a nutrient source, and do not smell like a conspecific. The handling by humans of cute little puppy-dogs that occurs in the context of their genetic predispositions, diet, metabolism and multisensory input might make a huge difference in their adult behavior.

Clearly, dog domestication has led to their trust and ‘love’ of some people, but not all people.  The different responses of dogs to different people exemplifies learned behaviors that are genetically predisposed and experience-dependent. Some dogs may not be as trusting as others, and the experience of some dogs with some people may make a dog’s behavior more wolf-like.

The differences in dogs and the differences between dogs and wolves can be explained via what is neuroscientifically known about the molecular mechanisms involved in the adaptive evolution of species from microbes to man. The molecular mechanisms are nutrient-dependent and pheromone-controlled in the context of ecological, social, neurogenic, and socio-cognitive niche construction.

Experiments based on theory may eventually demonstrate what is already known about the biological basis of differences in behavior.  However, the analysis of data should be based on biological facts, not evolutionary theory.

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James Kohl
Retired medical laboratory scientist

James Kohl




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