Dogs are man’s best friend. There is no denying that because, whether you like dogs or not, our species have been working and living together for tens of thousands of years. Genome sequencing of modern dogs tells us they diverged from their cousins, the wolves, about 27000-40000 years ago, which means it’s possible humans were influencing lupine evolution even back then. From hunting accessories to pets to cuddle with, dog and man have been inseparable since we came together millennia ago. But they are not just in an occasional mutual relationship with us, as a recent study discovered, it might be in their genes to be close to us.
The research team, from Linköping University, in Sweden, conducted an experiment with beagles to find out how willing they would be to seek human assistance when presented with a challenge they could not solve. The researchers put the dogs in controlled environments with a human they had never seen before; they were then presented with three sliding doors with treats behind them, one of which was fixed and could not be moved by any means available to them. The most common reaction was for the dogs, after trying in vain to open the fixed door, to turn to the human for help. After the experiment, the dogs were scored based on their likeliness to seek human assistance and the few with the top and bottom scores had their genomes analysed. After compiling the results, the researchers came to the conclusion that five specific genes were likely linked to the observed behaviour – four of which are known to be associated with autism in humans. It is unclear if they can have the same effect on dogs as of yet.
While about 70% of the behaviour in dogs has to do with experience and psychology rather than genes, this may be the sign of a mutualistic relationship far deeper than previously known. A specialist in canine genetics from Cambridge University said that while this does shed some light on the depth of human-dog relationships, the experiment conducted investigated only a specific factor in how dogs perceive men, and that the full picture likely involves many more genes acting in their genomes to make them attracted to humans. This is only the tip of the iceberg on the subject, which may go deeper than expected. The Swedish researchers are now planning on doing similar tests on different breeds of dog to find if this is as widespread as assumed. It’s hard to say how far the rabbit hole will go, but one thing is for sure: our relationship with dogs is even more unique than it has ever known to be.