Anne Meinert

October 2014 until mid of February 2015
University Universität Salzburg
Project at the WSC Ambiguity vs. Risk-taking in dogs and wolves
Favourite animal at the WSC Nanuk, Chitto, Gombo und Binti

I just finished my bachelor's degree at the University of Salzburg; now I have the opportunity to obtain an insight into scientific work in the field of behavioural and cognitive biology before starting my masters. Since this is the part of biology in which I am most interested, I also chose a topic concerning this field and analyzed stereotypic behaviour and the effect of olfactory enrichment in the brown bears living in Zoo Salzburg.

After this internship I want to stay in Vienna and continue my studies with the master's degree "Behavioural, Neuro- and Cognitive Biology". 

My project at WSC is the continuation of a recently accomplished one, which was testing risk-assessment in dogs and wolves - however, extended by the factor "ambiguity". For the test, we use an apparatus which is presenting two kinds of food to the animals and they have to make choice between them. For this, dogs and wolves are trained to touch the appropriate side with their muzzle. In the previous project they tested, after an extensive training, if animals choose a risky or a safe option. The safe side contains a dry food pellet, whereas the risky option offers a stone and a piece of preferred food, for example sausage or a piece of meat - but only in 50% of choices animals get the preferred food item, in the other 50% they receive the stone. So, how do they decide?

The hypothesis claims that wolves are more risk-prone since their ecological background as hunters often requires them to take a high risk for gaining food. Dogs, indeed, got used to having no need to take risks in the course of their domestication, since humans provide them with food; so they should act more risk-averse.

The purpose of my project is to find out if and how risk-assessment in dogs and wolves changes, if they have no knowledge about the possible outcomes - so if they do not know the possibilities of the risky option.

I am looking forward to the results of this project and to the time I'm going to spend here. It is a great experience to work with students, trainers and researchers from all over the world and to get to know the animals better and better.

I am sure to learn very much, personally as well as concerning my studies, and to gather precious knowledge during this internship!