Little is known about the development of the sensory systems of wolves. The timing of sensory development in wolves is usually extrapolated from studies on dogs, since they are members of the same species. However, early developmental differences between these two subspecies have already been identified. For example, wolves tend to approach and investigate objects in their environment 2 wk before dogs. These changes in developmental timing may play an important role in the behavioral differences between adult wolves and dogs. The purpose of this study is to compare the development of the sensory systems in wolves and dogs.
Responses of seven wolf pups and 43 dog pups to familiar and novel olfactory, auditory, and visual stimuli were tested weekly from 2–7 wk of age. Eleven wolf pups were also observed for orientation towards auditory and visual stimuli during 2-h sessions, 5 d a week, from 2–8 wk of age. These observations were supplemented by the daily records of caretakers.
The results suggest that wolves and dogs both develop olfaction by 2 wk, audition by 4 wk, and vision by 6 wk on average, despite the 2-wk shift in their ability to explore. This means that when wolves begin to explore at 2 wk, they are blind and deaf, and must rely primarily on their sense of smell. Thus, there is a significant alteration of how these subspecies experience their environment during the critical period of socialization. These findings lead to an alternative explanation for the difference in dogs' and wolves' abilities to form interspecies social attachments, such as those with humans.