Why are dogs such doting companions? It's in their genes

July 19, 2017
Credit: CC0 Public Domain

Researchers have identified a genetic difference in domesticated dogs and wolves that could explain the canines' contrasting social interaction with humans.

The finding, published today in the journal Science Advances, provides a new understanding of the behavioral divergence between dogs and wolves that began thousands of years ago, said Monique Udell, an animal scientist at Oregon State University and lead co-author of the study.

"The genetic basis for the behavioral divergence between dogs and wolves has been poorly understood, especially with regard to dogs' success in human environments," Udell said. "It was once thought that during domestication dogs had evolved an advanced form of that wolves lacked. This new evidence would suggest that dogs instead have a genetic condition that can lead to an exaggerated motivation to seek social contact compared to wolves."

It is the first study to integrate behavioral and genetic data to understand the molecular underpinnings of changes that occurred to the social behavior of dogs during domestication, said Udell, director of the Human-Animal Interaction Lab in OSU's College of Agricultural Sciences.

Using molecular tools, geneticists led by Princeton University biologist Bridgett vonHoldt determined that dogs have the same genetic markers that are found in people with Williams-Beuren syndrome, a disorder characterized by developmental delays and "hypersocial" behavior.

In the study, the researchers evaluated human-directed sociability of 18 and 10 captive human-socialized gray wolves using sociability and problem-solving tasks. The dogs and wolves were given a solvable with a person present: open a puzzle box containing a sausage within two minutes. The dogs were more likely to gaze at the person and not persist in the task. The wolves were more likely to persist in the task and solve it, even if a person was nearby.

The researchers then conducted a second test. They had a person sitting down inside a marked circle in an active phase and a passive phase. In the active phase, the person called the animal by name and actively encouraged contact while remaining in the circle. In the passive phase, they sat quietly and ignored the animal by looking down on the floor.

Both the dogs and wolves were quick to approach the people, but the wolves tended to wander away after just a few seconds. The dogs persisted for a long period of time with both familiar and unfamiliar people.

After the tests, the researchers gathered blood samples from the for genetic testing.

"We've done a lot of research that shows that wolves and dogs can perform equally well on social cognition tasks," Udell said. "Where the real difference seems to lie is the dog's persistent gazing at people and a desire to seek prolonged proximity to people, past the point where you expect an adult animal to engage in this behavior."

The study builds upon previous work by Udell's lab that focuses on canine behavior and social cognition.

In a recently published study in the journal Animal Cognition, her group found that among four sets of canines - two groups of pet domestic dogs, a group of free-ranging domestic dogs, and human-socialized wolves - the indeed persisted the most on the independent problem-solving task with a person present, and the dogs were more focused on the human.

But what surprised the researchers was that the free-ranging domestic dogs, living on the streets of India as scavengers, persisted the least on the task and gazed at the person longer than even the pet .

"That was a surprising and interesting finding," said Lauren Brubaker, a doctoral student at OSU who led the study.

Explore further: Wolves found to be better at problem-solving task than domesticated dogs

More information: B.M. vonHoldt el al., "Structural variants in genes associated with human Williams-Beuren syndrome underlie stereotypical hypersociability in domestic dogs," Science Advances (2017). DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.1700398 advances.sciencemag.org/content/3/7/e1700398

Related Stories

Study throws dog domestication theories to the wolves

July 18, 2017

From the tiny chihuahua to the massive Saint Bernard, domestic dogs today trace their roots to a single group of wolves that crossed the path of humans as long as 40,000 years ago, researchers said Tuesday.

Dog-human cooperation is based on social skills of wolves

January 20, 2015

Dogs are man's best friend and partner. The origins of this dog-human relationship were subject of a study by behavioural scientists from the Messerli Research Institute at the Vetmeduni Vienna and the Wolf Science Center. ...

Sensitivity to inequity is in wolves' and dogs' blood

June 8, 2017

Not only dogs but also wolves react to inequity - similar to humans or primates. This has been confirmed in a new study by comparative psychologists of the Messerli Research Institute of the University of Veterinary Medicine, ...

Recommended for you

Even wild mammals have regional dialects

December 13, 2017

Researchers from Cardiff University's Otter Project have discovered that genetically distinct populations of wild otters from across the UK have their own regional odours for communicating vital information to each other. ...

Mosquito sex protein could provide key to controlling disease

December 13, 2017

If you thought the sex lives of humans were complicated, consider the case of the female Aedes aegypti mosquito, bringer of Zika, dengue, and yellow fever: She mates but once, in seconds and on the wing, with one lucky male; ...

Defence at almost any price

December 13, 2017

Even bacteria have enemies – in water, for example, single-celled ciliates preferably feed on microbes. The microbes protect themselves against predators by employing a variety of tricks, which the ciliates, in turn, attempt ...

4 comments

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

rderkis
not rated yet Jul 19, 2017
I think this study glossed over the really important finding which was to quote -

"But what surprised the researchers was that the free-ranging domestic dogs, living on the streets of India as scavengers, persisted the least on the task and gazed at the person longer than even the pet dogs.


Why, from a research.study, not speculation?
betterexists
1 / 5 (1) Jul 19, 2017
If so, MOVE Them Into CATS.
Next Decade into Tigers & Lions Too!
What is Stopping you?
rderkis
1 / 5 (1) Jul 19, 2017
If so, MOVE Them Into CATS.
Next Decade into Tigers & Lions Too!
What is Stopping you?


????????????? Explain in more detail,please.
Are you talking about gene editing?
If so we will.
xponen
not rated yet Jul 22, 2017
I have sympathy toward dogs, because we actively inflicting them william syndrome..

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.