Pigs solve problems independently while dogs are cooperative and dependant on humans: Study

Earlier studies have shown that dogs turn to humans during problem-solving more than similarly socialized wolves or cats


                            Pigs solve problems independently while dogs are cooperative and dependant on humans: Study
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Pigs are increasingly becoming popular pets. But when faced with a hard task, do they seek support from humans, like dogs? Or do they go solo, like cats?

It turns out, pigs -- known for their intelligence and social skills -- are a persistent and resourceful bunch. They try to solve the problem independently, unlike dogs, who turn to humans for support. They communicate by looking at people and then back to the task, Attila Andics, principal investigator of the MTA-ELTE 'Lendület' Neuroethology of Communication Research Group, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW). Researchers call this human-oriented communicative behaviors.

Andics and his team wanted to investigate whether human-oriented communicative behaviors were restricted to dogs alone. "We already knew from earlier works that dogs show more human-oriented behaviors during problem-solving than similarly socialized wolves (dog's closest relatives) or cats (another highly popular companion animal)," Andics explained. This could be because cats are not as social, and wolves are not domesticated. Pigs, like dogs, are both domesticated and highly social. Their "domestication was characterized by relatively close human contact. Pigs were also used for work or treated as pets, occupying a similar ‘social niche’ in human families as the family dog," he said. He added that this is the first study to look at referential communicative abilities of swine towards humans. 

The researchers compared human-oriented communicative behaviors of young miniature pigs and dogs kept as companion animals. (Eotvos Lorand University / Paula Perez)

The researchers raised dogs and miniature pigs under similar conditions. To test them, the team placed a box without food in it. Both animals tried to interact with humans, says Linda Gerencsér, a research fellow at the Research Group.

In the following experiment, they placed food in the box with a movable lid. The animals had to figure out a way to gain access to the food; and pigs were faster than dogs in solving the task and getting their treats. Next, the team made the reward inaccessible by securing the lid. Dogs turned to humans for support more than ever. And pigs, for the most part, tried to solve it on their own. 

The findings show that pigs do communicate with humans, but not while encountering a problem. Canines are naturally more dependent on and cooperative with humans, explaining their unique success in interacting with us, Ph.D. student Paula Pérez said. According to Andics, there could be several reasons for this. One explanation is that dogs hunted in groups and showed cooperation before domestication. Second, during domestication, canines evolved to become more cooperative with humans. Another theory suggests that they may have adapted sooner to interact with people than pigs.

The study has a few limitations. The dogs and pigs, though raised under similar conditions, may have interacted with humans differently. The team said that they had no control over socialization during the first eight weeks and whether that shaped how they communicated with humans.

The other shortcoming was that the task may have been more natural for pigs than dogs and may have helped the pigs solve the task on their own. Talking about future studies, Andics said they "could compare dogs' and pigs' human-oriented behaviors during problem-solving in different task settings to understand the role of task naturalness."

The findings of the study are published in Animal Cognition.

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