Despite decades of effort to elucidate the mechanisms underlying the unique relationship between humans and domestic dogs, the role of genetics in shaping canine sociability remains poorly understood. Disentangling the genetics of behavior, particularly those traits that are associated with personality, have been challenging due to the anticipated complexity of the underlying genetic architecture.
My research team published a tantalizing finding regarding the genetic foundation of human-directed hyper-sociability behavior in wolves and dogs. We found that canines that displayed a higher level of interest to interact with humans also carried more mutations that are in close proximity to three genes (WBSRC17, GTF2I, and GTF2IRD1). Further, dogs carried more of these mutations than wolves. These genes are members of a gene family that, when deleted in humans, results in Williams-Beuren Syndrome, a neuro-developmental disorder characterized by delayed development, cognitive impairment, behavioral abnormalities, and extreme friendliness. In canines, the mutations we found to be associated with hyper-sociability were also found to be transposon insertions. These are fragments of DNA that can independently copy/paste themselves around the canine genome, and are easily detected through affordable molecular techniques.