The history of dogs and how they became man's best friend is something that scientists around the world have been attempting to uncover. But have you ever wondered if there is a connection which lies beneath the surface between dogs and people?
Research at Linköping University in Sweden recently revealed a link between human and canine genetics that may influence sociability.
Scientists involved in the study found that of the five different genes which influence a dog's ability to interact with humans, four of them are also related to social behaviours, such as autism in humans.
Lead researcher of the study Professor Per Jensen said, “Our findings are the first to reveal genes that might have caused the extreme change in social behaviour that has occurred in dogs since they were domesticated.”
Alongside his team, Jensen studied the behaviour of around 500 Beagles with similar experiences interacting with people by presenting them with what was deemed to be an unsolvable problem.
The dogs had to open a tight lid and the incentive was to get a treat. They could easily get two treats, but a third had been made inaccessible to them.
To eliminate the dog seeking help from a person in the room when the task became too difficult, each dog's test was carried out and recorded on video, meaning there was no person present during each dog's test.
The results of this part of the study have led to the discussion about differences between male dogs and females, with more males showing dominance during the test compared to the female dogs who took park.
Equally, it was also discovered that one of the genes present in dogs could be linked to the 'persistence' personality trait in humans, as well as the risk of developing schizophrenia.
Interestingly, scientists also found that COMT-polymorphism, which controls how the brain reacts to stress, was also found to be present in dogs as it is in humans.
It's frequencies vary between breeds, suggesting that it could play an important role in regulating a dog's behaviour.
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The DNA link between dogs & humans
DNA was also studied from approximately 200 of the 500 dogs and using a genome-wide association study (GWAS), researchers examined each dog's DNA for variables.
Of the test, the University says, "GWAS can be used to determine if a particular genetic variant is more common among individuals with a particular trait – in this case, contact-seeking behaviour."
'It turned out that the contact-seeking dogs more often carried certain genetic variants'
Mia Persson, a doctoral student and main author of the paper spoke about the DNA findings and the similarities between dogs and people saying, "We found a clear association with DNA regions that contain five different genes of interest. Four of the genes are previously known from studies of social disorders in humans, for instance, autism and ADHD."
Learning from dogs to understand more about autism
Researchers from the team hope to advance the findings by working with other dog breeds to learn if similar findings can be reproduced in multiple dog breeds. Professor Jensen said, "If the associations we have found can be confirmed in other dog breeds, it’s possible that dog behaviour can help us to better understand social disorders in humans."