The findings of a new dog behavior study could help explain why our dogs are able to relate to and communicate with us so well.
Researchers from Linköping University in Sweden have discovered a link between five different canine genes and dogs' sociability with humans.
Over thousands of years, dogs have adapted to life with humans. They have developed and honed their ability to communicate and cooperate with us, and even seek our help when they come across a problem they need help solving. This behavior in particular differentiates dogs from their wild counterparts, wolves, who, when faced with a seemingly unsolvable problem, will still attempt to solve it themselves.
In the study from Linköping University, researchers set out to study this very aspect of dog behavior. They presented nearly 500 Beagles (all with similar backgrounds in terms of their interaction with humans) with a container holding a treat. The dogs were required to open the tightly-secured lid to get to the treat.
The scientists videotaped the dogs as they grappled with the difficult task. They used the video recordings to keep track of the number of dogs who sought out human help from a person in the room when they failed to open the container lid themselves.
The scientists also studied the DNA of more than 200 of the dogs that participated in the study. They used a method called GWAS (genome-wide association study) to study genetic variants across the genome.
One of the benefits of GWAS is that it can indicate whether or not a specific genetic variant is more prevalent among individuals who display a particular trait. In this case, the trait in question was contact seeking (the tendency of some dogs to solicit human help to solve a problem). The scientists found that contact-seeking dogs were in fact more likely to carry certain genetic variants.
"Our findings are the first to reveal genes that can have caused the extreme change in social behaviour, which has occurred in dogs since they were domesticated," says the study's lead researcher, Professor Per Jensen.
The researchers identified five different genes they believe play a key part in dogs' social behavior.
"If the associations we have found can be confirmed in other dog breeds it is possible that dog behaviour also can help us to better understand social disorders in humans," says Jensen.
The study was published in the journal "Scientific Reports" and you can check it out here.