While reading an article recently about an experiment that involved dogs and wolves, I was struck by the clear analogy with human behavior. The focus of the experiment was on how wolves solved a problem versus how domesticated dogs solved the same problem. Here’s the question the experiment tried to answer:
“But what happens when the two species are presented with a puzzle that—with a little persistence—can be solved?”
The result of the experiment was not surprising at all…
“The results show that even when faced with a puzzle that is easily solved (instead of unsolvable), wolves and dogs use different strategies, Udell says. The wolves were bent on figuring out the solution by themselves, whereas the dogs generally made no effort to work on the puzzle until someone encouraged them—and even then they were oddly unsuccessful.”
The experimenter concluded…
“…it may be, as Udell also suggests, that the dogs simply had never had as many opportunities as the wolves to solve problems because people were always there to help. The dogs had only to turn their heads and look back.”
Now, as you know, I’m a veterinarian and I enjoy reading articles like this one. And, yes, I am a proponent of studying animals as a means to solve human health problems. In fact, we humans can thank animals for a huge chunk of the medical knowledge we use to keep ourselves healthy. Go here, here and here for a glimpse into the extent of medical benefits from animal research.
So, this article got me to thinking…
A critical insight from this experiment is hiding in plain sight. Sure, dog owners can use this information to improve how we relate to canine pets. But, there is another lesson here with the potential for significant contributions to our society. Why not rephrase the conclusion and apply it to learned behavior in people? After all, that’s what we do to gain medical knowledge to save countless human lives. By exchanging a few words in their conclusion, we can expose a root cause for a growing condition threatening the future of our country.
“…it may be that millions of people simply never had as many opportunities as their predecessors to solve problems because government agencies were always there to help. The dependent people had only to turn their heads and look back.”
Heaven help us if we continue to “train” masses of our citizens to lose their God-given abilities to solve problems on their own by teaching them to depend on government agencies instead.