An experiment raising wolf puppies in close contact with humans has surprisingly found that some of those puppies learn how to play fetch with humans, even strangers.
Playing fetch with your dog isn’t as simple as it seems. Your pooch must be perceptive enough to realize you want the ball back—and social enough to want to play with you in the first place. It’s such an advanced skill, in fact, that many scientists think it could have arisen only over thousands of years of domestication.
But a new study reveals that some gray wolves—the ancestors of dogs—can also play fetch. The work supports the idea that the roots of many of the traits and behaviors we see in domesticated animals, from cats to chickens, may be present in their wild relatives.
…As the pups grew, the scientists noticed that some would retrieve a tennis ball thrown across the room. Intrigued, they tested all the wolves for the ability. When the pups were 8 weeks old, Hansen Wheat brought each one into a large, barren room with someone the animals had never met before. Then she left, and after a few minutes, the stranger threw a tennis ball.
Most of the wolves ignored the ball. But two pups—Lemmy and Elvis—returned the ball twice, the team reports today in iScience. One pup named Sting returned it all three times it was thrown, as seen in the video above. (All the wolves were named after musicians.)
What this study has discovered is likely the very process that produced the first dogs, from wolves. Early humans culled out of the wolf pack the puppies that responded to human behavior, and interbred those puppies to produce a new species that was closely linked to its human masters. And apparently this process can be quicker than some scientists previously believed.