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25 Aug 2017

How dogs domesticated humans

We love dogs at Pembroke Dental, and so we didn’t really know how to take the news that there’s a scientific reason why dogs love humans.

You know the way they follow you around, are endlessly loyal and attentive, and display unconditional love 24/7? Apparently it’s linked to a congenital disorder that’s also found in humans, called Williams-Beuren syndrome.

Sort of breaks the magic of it a little, doesn’t it? In a paper published in Science Advances, scientists compared a group of domestic dogs and wolves.

Both were told to retrieve food, first in the presence of human beings and then in isolation, and the margin by which the wolves beat the dogs was much greater in the first instance.

Bridgett vonHoldt of Princeton University said: “It’s not that they couldn’t solve the puzzle, they were just too busy looking at the human to do it.”

The dogs were different from the wolves because of their hypersociability, and they were found to be much more reliant on humans than the wolves. They wanted help from humans and, basically, just wanted to spend more time with them.

The scientists found that two missing genes in dogs lead to this hypersociability, which can also be linked to Williams-Beuren syndrome, a disorder in humans associated with intense sociability.

The authors said the findings showed “there are commonalities in the genetic architecture of Williams-Beuren syndrome and canine tameness”.

Did the first wolves to come and make friends with humans in our distant past have these gene variants? The ones that were bold and aggressive would likely have been killed by humans — in line with our usual policy of extermination — but the ones that were bold and friendly might have been tolerated.

Maybe the two missing genes are the secret behind how dogs domesticated humans, and why to this day we find ourselves devoting so much time to them, even writing this blog…

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