Have you ever wanted to play fetch with a wolf?

Apr 07, 2020

Some of the common dog breeds we know and love today!

By Emma Goldberg

There are nearly 90 million dogs in the US and each has a unique personality.  There is, however, one thing nearly all dogs have in common: if you throw a ball, they will bring it back!  We have long believed that the “fetching skill” only existed in modern dogs, but researchers at Stockholm University in Sweden recently discovered that wolf puppies can also take part in this puppy pasttime!

Let’s refresh our dog history.  The 150+ breeds of dogs we have today (labrador retrievers, greyhounds, german shepards, etc.) are all descendants of the gray wolf.  The first account of humans keeping wolves as house pets is from about 20,000 years ago and since then, the wolves have evolved into the hundreds of dog breeds we see and love today!  Not to worry, though, your furry friend is most definitely NOT a wolf! Over time, the wolves evolved to be smaller in size and to also have smaller teeth.  No one knows for sure why wolves and humans began to form such a great and strong relationship. Some scientists think that humans kept them as companions, while others think the wolves used humans to stay warm in the winters!  No matter what the reason, dogs are popular pets around the world.   

The gray wolf — the ancestor of our modern dogs!

There’s no doubt that wolves and dogs are related, but fetching skills have always been thought of as a “dog-only” skill.  When you throw a ball or a stick for your dog, your dog interprets your action and runs to retrieve your “lost item”. That is, at least, until Dr. Christina Wheat discovered that the skill exists in some untrained wolf puppies!  Christina has worked with wolves for a long time and she’s interested in studying the differences between wolves and dogs.  During a recent behavior test that included a fetching test, three wolf puppies raced to retrieve a tennis ball that was thrown across the room — completely stunning Dr. Wheat! 

Wolf and dog puppies have the innate ability to play fetch.

This discovery means that the “fetching trait”  might not be a dog trait, it may have been passed down from ancestral wolves.  This playfulness may be part of why our ancestors started interacting with and keeping wolves as pets!





Edited by Mike Pablo and Rachel Cherney