Who’s afraid of the big, bad wolf? Not the researchers at the Wolf Science Center in Ernstbrunn, Austria. In fact, they trained wolves to run on the world’s largest treadmill.
And no, this isn’t a canine version of “The Biggest Loser.” You won’t hear Jillian or Bob barking orders. The treadmill exercise helps researchers gather information on animal cooperation and socialization.
The research project, which explores cooperation and coordination between dogs and humans and the differences in dog and wolf trainability, started with the basics — teaching the dogs and wolves to get on the treadmill.
Kim Kortekaas, a PhD candidate working on the project, says they started out by training the wolves and dogs to touch a target with their noses.
The idea was that once the animals knew the target, we could hang it over the treadmill and it would act as a guide for them to step on the treadmill. And this worked really well.
They started the target training with the treadmill off, but Kortekaas says as the dogs and wolves seemed secure stepping onto the treadmill, they put it on the lowest speed. They increased the speed slowly but surely, and after a couples months, they had running dogs and no need for the targets.
With the animals up and running, the next phase of the research can begin. Lead researcher Kurt Kotrschal says the goal of the treadmill project is to have two or more animals running together to see how well they run and whether this affects their willingness to share food afterward.
Wolves are social hunters, and we expect a great willingness to cooperate in wolves, but less so in dogs.
They also want to expand to wolf-human dyads. Kotrschal jogged with a wolf named Kaspar as a trial.
Questions of how well wolves and dogs coordinate with humans are, again, relevant for domestication.
Since wolves run together as a pack, researchers think the treadmill should be a more natural way of testing how willing the animals are to work and run together and share their food afterward.
H/t Wolf Science Center Tumblr
Featured image via Robert Bayer