The Genetics of How Dogs Became Our Social Allies
Dogs were domesticated from wolves about 15,000 years ago, and an important selection pressure (intentional or unintentional) has been their ability to communicate and cooperate with people. They show extensive human-directed sociability, which varies within as well as between breeds and is not shared by ancestral wolves. Hence, dogs are potentially ideal models for studying the genetics of social behavior. Here, we review some recent research carried out by us and others on this subject. We present results showing that recent selection of different breed types can be used as a model system for investigating the genetic architecture of personalities. Furthermore, we review data showing that human-directed social behavior is significantly related to a small number of genes that have known connections to human social disorders such as autism and schizophrenia. We suggest that dogs are excellent study subjects for analyzing the evolution and genetics of social behavior and can serve as probes for human health and welfare.