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Wolf Howl Responses Offer Look at Vocal Behavior-Related Selection in Dogs

In Communication Biology, investigators in Hungary, the UK, and other international centers describe dog responses to wolf howls, identifying a range of domestic dog (Canis familiaris) responses that appear to coincide with dog phylogeny and evolutionary distance from the wolf (C. lupus), among other biological factors. When the team played wolf howl sounds for 68 domestic dogs, they saw seven response type clusters, ranging from increased attention or replies to physical movements such as movement toward an owner or away from the nearest exit. Along with factors such as a dog's age, sex, or reproductive status, the authors saw response differences that seemed to correspond with dogs' genetic distance from wolves, estimated with the help of phylogenetic clues. "Older dogs of more ancient breeds respond with howls longer and show more stress-related behaviors too, while more modern breeds seem to react rather with barking," they write. "These findings support the hypothesis that domestication changed dogs' vocal repertoire, and through the course of selective breeding by humans, dogs' responses to howls changed fundamentally."