There are many things that make our furry canines so easily lovable; their unconditional love, their loyalty, their big floppy ears and their goofy personalities. But what makes them so friendly, and so completely content to socialize with humans? The reason may surprise you…
To fully understand what makes dogs so affable and fun-loving, a Princeton evolutionary biologist named Bridgett Von Holdt spent years studying the complex social behavior of both wolves and dogs. While it’s already known that dogs are very social around humans, it hasn’t been understood exactly why, especially in relation to their close-relative, the wolf. Speculation points to evolution and domestication, but Von Holdt was curious if it had to do with specific genes, too.
Turns out, genes play a big role. According to a recent study, both dogs and humans carry variants of two hypersocial genes, GTF2I and GTF2IRD1. Interestingly enough, the deletion of those two genes in humans results in Williams syndrome, a developmental disorder that is characterized by distinct facial features, cognitive difficulties, and a tendency to love everyone. In other words, von Holdt believes that the absence of those two genes in dogs could also result in the same friendly and fun-loving behavior. The findings don’t stop there: another study shows that wolves, when presented with a piece of sausage inside of a box, are much quicker to open the box and get to the sausage than dogs, who spend more time looking to the humans in the room for cues (it becomes a social event).
With science evolving everyday, we can only imagine what other fascinating findings we’ll come across as we continue to learn more about the four-legged members of our family. And we look forward to it!