Abstract Mating and reproductive outcome is often determined by the simultaneous operation of different mechanisms like intrasexual competition, mating preferences and sexual coercion. The present study investigated how social variables affected mating outcome in a pack of free-ranging dogs, a species supposed to have lost most features of the social system of wolves during domestication. We found that, although the pack comprised multiple breeding individuals, both male copulation success and female reproductive success were positively influenced by a linear combination of dominance rank, age and leadership. Our results also suggest that mate preferences affect mating outcome by reinforcing the success of most dominant individuals. In particular, during their oestrous period bitches clearly searched for the proximity of high ranking males who displayed affiliative behaviour towards them, while they were more likely to reject the males who intimidated them. At the same time, male courting effort and male-male competition for receptive females appeared to be stronger in the presence of higher-ranking females, suggesting a male preference for dominant females. To our knowledge, these results provide the first clear evidence of social regulation of reproductive activities in domestic dogs, and suggest that some common organizing mechanisms may contribute to shape the social organization of both dogs and wolves.
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