Do dogs live in joint families? Understanding allo-parental care in free-ranging dogs
Quantitative Biology - Other Quantitative Biology
Cooperative breeding is an excellent example of altruistic cooperation in social groups. Domestic dogs have evolved from cooperatively hunting and breeding ancestors, but have adapted to a facultatively social scavenging lifestyle on streets, and solitary living in human homes. Pets typically breed and reproduce under human supervision, but free-ranging dogs can provide insights into the natural breeding biology of dogs. We conducted a five year long study on parental care of free-ranging dogs in India. We observed widespread alloparenting by both adult males and females. Allomothers provided significantly less care that the mothers, but the putative fathers showed comparable levels of care with the mothers. However, the nature of care varied; mothers invested more effort in feeding and allogrooming, while the putative fathers played and protected more. We were unsure of the relatedness of the pups with the putative fathers, but all the allomothers were maternal relatives of the pups, which provides support for both the benefit-of-philopatry and assured fitness returns hypotheses. Free-ranging dogs are not cooperative breeders like wolves, but are more similar to communal breeders. Their breeding biology bears interesting similarities with the human joint family system.