Have you ever felt like, no matter how hard you try, there's someone after you? You build a house of straw and what happens? He blows it down. You build a house of sticks. Guess what? Same result.
If this sounds familiar, you're not alone. We all feel like the Three Little Pigs every now and then. Every time we turn around, there's the Big Bad Wolf ready to blow things down. Wouldn't it be great if we could just tame him, so we could control him?
Scientifically, wolves are known as Canis lupus. Canis is what gives us our common name for domesticated dogs: canines. So wolves are indeed part of the dog family. In fact, they're the largest members of the family.
Throughout history, wolves have had an adversarial relationship with humans. They've been portrayed as wild beasts with spine-tingling howls. Although they rarely attack humans, most people consider them one of the most feared villains in all of nature. Perhaps it's because they do regularly attack domestic animals, such as pets and livestock.
Although many types of wolves were once commonplace all around the United States, their numbers have dwindled considerably. Due to hunting and loss of habitat, wolves struggle to survive in today's world.
Because of the scarcity of some species of wolves, some scientists have tried to bolster their numbers by breeding them in captivity in zoos or animal reserves. This has led some to WONDER whether these wild creatures could be domesticated like the dogs we're all familiar with.
It seems logical, right? They're animals from the same family. Scientists have confirmed through genetic testing that wolves and domestic dogs are remarkably similar. Despite their similarities, though, wolves are very difficult to domesticate.
With such a similar genetic background, scientists have long wondered why wolves tend to stay wild while dogs will gladly assume the role of man's best friend. New research has given them some hints as to the answer to this mysterious riddle.
Kathryn Lord, an evolutionary biologist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, believes the difference between wolves and dogs stems from their first sensory experiences and how they're socialized. Each animal goes through a short period of time called a socialization window.
During this time, they can be introduced to things, such as other animals, sights, smells, and experiences, that they will be comfortable with all their lives. After the socialization window closes, however, new things will elicit a fear response.
The key to the difference between wolves and dogs may be when they experience the socialization window. Researchers believe wolves may experience the socialization window much earlier than dogs. Why does this make a difference?
When wolves and dogs are very young, their sense of smell develops first. Afterward, their sense of hearing develops, followed by their sense of sight. When wolves experience their socialization window, they may only be able to smell. As they try to explore their new world, they probably can't hear or see much at all.
As their socialization window closes and they subsequently develop their hearing and sight, those new sounds and sights will elicit fear responses. This may explain why it's extremely hard to domesticate wolves.
Dogs, on the other hand, enter their socialization window after their hearing and sight have developed. Thus, they do not fear most of what they hear and see early in life, leading to their ability to get along with and not fear humans and a variety of other animals.