What Makes Dogs So Friendly? New Study Finds It’s Genetic!
21 July, 2017
We all know that dogs are super-friendly. They show us any so many way from greeting us at the door, licking our faces to wagging their tails. Now, scientists say there is a genetic basis of this affection. Using clues from humans with a genetic disorder that makes them unusually friendly, the study showed variations in several genes that make some dogs’ super friendly while others not as much.
Over the last few years, DNA has been found as a link to a dog’s personality
Over the past decade, geneticists have discovered the DNA involved in key dog traits, such as size and coat variation. Some DNA seems linked to personality, and one study showed that dogs and humans enforce their bonds by gazing at each other. But few studies have pinned particular behaviors to specific genes. “There’s been a remarkable explosion of studies, with the exception of behavioral studies,” says Robert Wayne, an evolutionary biologist at the University of California, Los Angeles, who was not involved with the work.
Dogs were shown to be more-friendly than wolves
Seven years ago, Monique Udell, an animal behaviorist at Oregon State University in Corvallis, and Princeton University geneticist Bridgett von Holdt joined forces to link genes to a behavioral trait they think was pivotal to dog domestication: hyper-sociability. Researchers already know that dogs are extremely social compared with wolves, and the team confirmed this by comparing the behavior of 18 dogs—some purebreds, others mixed breeds—with 10 captive, hand-raised wolves at a research and education institute in Indiana. As others had shown, the dogs were much friendlier than the wolves, even though the wolves had been raised by people.
Williams- Beuren syndrome makes a person friendly and friendly dogs have the same composition
The researchers then turned to humans with Williams-Beuren syndrome, a developmental disorder that leads to mental disability and an “elfin” appearance, but also often makes a person very trusting and friendly. The syndrome results from the loss of part of chromosome 7. Von Holdt focused on this stretch of DNA because she previously had found that this region, which is on dog chromosome 6, seemed to have been important in canine evolution
The DNA varied widely in both dogs, and to a lesser degree, wolves, with parts inserted, deleted, or duplicated. “Almost every dog and wolf we sequenced had a different change,” Von Holdt says. People with Williams-Beuren also show great variation in this region, and the variation is thought to affect the severity of the disease and people’s personalities.
Sociable dogs had DNA disruptions than wolves and the gene, GF21 being the main link
The same seems true in the wolves and dogs. Sociable dogs had more DNA disruptions than the more aloof wolves, the team reports today in Science Advances. Disruption on a gene for a protein called GIF21, which regulates the activity of other genes, was associated with the most social dogs. A relative lack of changes in that gene seems to lead to aloof, wolf-like behavior, Von Holdt say. Two other genes also were linked to sociality in dogs.
“The study is exciting because it provides such strong support for the ‘survival of the friendliest’” hypothesis of dog domestication, says Brian Hare, an evolutionary anthropologist at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, who was not involved in the work. In ancient wolves with these gene disruptions “fear was replaced by friendliness and a new social partner [was] created.”
What is the take-away?– well, dogs are not just sociable in all cases because of their domestication, but could also be genetics!
You can read the full study here: Science Magazine
If you want to know if your dog really loves you, read the Dog Love