Ever wondered why dogs are so friendly towards humans? Perhaps you simply take their adoration for granted! Skeptics amongst dog owners may like to think that dogs adore you simply to obtain food! Cats, however, have mastered the food slave routine without the human adoration and most definitely minus the over-the-top exuberance that most pet dogs display.

In fact some dogs seem to go overboard in the friendship department. Jumping up, licking you, knocking you over! Anything to get your attention. This over-the-top friendly behaviour may now be understood a little more with recent research.

It turns out that dogs have their unique ability to be our best friends and it’s all in their genes. Scientists have looked at the genetic makeup and behavioural traits of dogs and wolves. Wolves, of course, do not display their domesticated counterparts friendly behaviour towards humans.

Grey Wolves

In dogs
When 18 domesticated dogs and 10 captive grey wolves (somewhat used to humans) underwent a series of behavioural experiments to gauge their individual sociability and their problem-solving ability. Wolves were more likely to figure out how to get a sausage treat from a puzzle box than dogs, who were more likely to stare at nearby people, perhaps willing them to help.

Their canine genomes were then sequenced and two genes (GTF2I and  GTF2IRD1) appeared to be connected to dog hyper-sociability. These are the genes responsible for the hyper-social behaviour in humans with William-Beuren Syndrome.

In humans
Dogs share a chromosomal overlap with a human disorder called Williams-Beuren syndrome. This syndrome, in humans, results in developmental disorder causing a whole host of issues including heart defects and abnormalities in the brain and nervous system. The psychological symptoms of this syndrome is hypersociability; outgoing, friendly behaviour even toward strangers and also high empathy.

What this means for dogs and humans
Although this was only a small study, it is exciting as we may have found the specific genetic variants that were important for turning wolves into dogs. This could have occurred around 20,000 years ago or perhaps even 40,000 years, when dogs were first living alongside humans.

While this developmental delay may be a challenge in humans, this may be an advantage for domestic dogs. Their delayed development, in comparison to wolves, may ensure their success in the human world. That annoying, over-the-top, social exuberance may have been our pet dogs key to remaining our favourite pet.

Is your dog your best friend?

Further reading