November 2, 2015

Oxytocin Receptors Associated with Human Directed Behavior in Dogs

The study used German Shepherds and Border Collies to model human social interractions associated with the oxytocin system. The researchers believed that dogs would be viable for this study because of their co-evolution with humans and their adaptations to human social behavior and environments. They observed mutations in the dog's gene sequences that modified the oxytocin receptors in the dog's brain.

They tested the amount of oxytocin being produced in 5 different conditions: greeting by a stranger, separation from owner, problem solving, threatening approach, and the hiding of owner. The dogs with a mutated (-212AG, 19131 AG) and rs8679684 genes experienced an impact on the dog's ability to seeking an unfamiliar person and their owner, and how friendly the dog was towards strangers.

The oxytocin system is related to prosocial behaviors and trusting others. However, the genetic mutations that were related to more friendly Border Collies had the opposite effect in German Shepherds, and therefore there must be other influencers of a dog's friendliness. The researchers also noted that increased oxytocin was observed upon prolonged eye contact with humans.

Anna Kis, Melinda Bence, Gabriella Lakatos, Eniko Pergel, Borba la Turcsan, Jolanda Pluijmakers, Judit Vas, Zsuzsanna Elek, Ildiko Bruder, Levente Foldi, Maria Sasvari-Szekely, Adam Miklosi, Zsolt Ronai, Eniko Kubinyi, January 2014. Oxytocin Receptor Gene Polymorphisms Are Associated with Human Directed Social Behavior in Dogs. PLOS ONE 9(1): 1-9.