Dogs and Wolves are equally good at picking up human hand signals, says study.

When tasked with choosing between two paint cans based on a trainer’s hand signal, tamed wolves actually proved more adept at picking the right can.

Clive Wynne, an animal psychologist at the University of Florida in Gainesville, said that the new finding may question the idea that domestication some 15,000 years ago imbued dogs with a window into the human mind.

He said that dogs, and tamed wolves, probably learn to associate human arm movements with treats, play and affection and those who argue for a dog “theory of mind” are actually not looking at this obvious explanation, reports New Scientist.

“I think what’s going on here is straightforward conditioning,” he says.

“Have they forgotten about Pavlov?” said Wynne.

The new study is a rebuttal to a string of headline-grabbing papers that used similar approaches to demonstrate that dogs read humans better than wolves, and even chimpanzees. Wynne claimed that those reports used different environments and conditions for tests on wolves and dogs.

In order to level the playing field, the researchers worked with tame wolves that have received near constant human exposure since birth. They also tested both wolves and dogs under the same conditions: with familiar trainers and in outdoor enclosures.

Standing 2.5 meters from an animal, a trainer signalled one of two sand-filled paint cans placed on either side of the trainer. If the animal moved toward the correct can, it received a treat and heard a click.

Wolves picked the right pail about seven times out of 10, on average, while dogs tested under identical conditions did slightly better than chance. Dogs that performed the same test in their homes, though, equalled the wolves’ performance, while shelter dogs picked the correct pail in only three of every 10 attempts.

“These limbs of the human have been useful to pay attention to. In the past they have delivered good things. Every time you throw a ball for a puppy you are offering your limb as a conditioned stimulus,” he said.

He said that while domestication has made dogs more trainable, it hasn’t offered them insight into our wants and needs.

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“Any idiot can tame a dog. If you want to have a tame wolf, you’re going to have to invest much, much more energy,” he added.

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